No peace, no justice

“No justice, no peace” is a chant commonly heard at protests. The meaning is that there can be no social peace until the injustices being protested are addressed. And there is truth in that. Social arrangements widely perceived as unjust will and should make it difficult to keep the social peace.

But the converse is also true, “no peace, no justice”. There is no justice in the heat of conflict. Nearly every act in a violent conflict is a perpetration of injustice. Even in nonviolent political contestation, when it is hot, the imperative to act in ways partisans believe will advance the cause often overwhelms concerns about justice. Whatever harm some controversy provokes to the people who happen to find themselves in the spotlight becomes secondary to the role of the event in the broader dispute, the ways that partisans can make use of it, weaponize it. That is all quite the opposite of justice.

If you say you stand for justice, you must also stand for some path to social peace. Partisans on all sides of our contemporary disputes seem to have forgotten this. However our controversies shake out, we will all have to live together. If you essentialize partisans on the other side of your disputes as implacable, evil, you leave no hope whatsoever for justice or for peace. In a society that we share, unless you mean to expel or incarcerate or kill large groups of people (in which case you are neither for peace nor for justice), your politics must create space for redemption, cooptation, reconciliation. If your politics does not envision and work towards a decent outcome for your “enemies” as well as your allies, the cause you serve is not just.

On the cultural right, people who essentialize race and assume that demographics are destiny, and so must become the battleground on which political disputes are fought, serve the cause of neither peace nor justice. Demographic difference is inescapable without recourse to atrocity. The turn-of-the-millennium triumphalism of Democratic partisans based on demographics trends was both morally bankrupt and empirically dumb. US history is a recurring story of the identity and politics of various groups changing as they transform from outsider new immigrants to more comfortably American identities. Democrats have belatedly realized that they cannot pocket “Latinx” voters, who can and will often vote Republican. Unfortunately, the bad intuitions of the discredited “emerging Democratic majority” have transmogrified into “replacement theory” on the right, still empirically wrong but even more socially vicious.

On the cultural left, the essentialization of “whiteness” or “white supremacy” as an evil, almost supernatural, force inextricably bound up in the DNA of the United States but that must be “dismantled” similarly leaves no room for peace, and so no room for justice. If the United States is irredeemably white supremicist, then dismantling white supremacy means dismantling the United States. Insurrection was a bad idea on January 6, 2021, and it remains so today. If you claim that “whiteness is a disease”, your plain language leaves little room for full and equal inclusion of people who think of themselves as white in the better society you hope to build, and so sabotages any hope of social peace, and therefore any hope of social justice. People are people. Our humanity transcends demography and so too must our politics. The United States does indeed have a long and shameful history of white supremacy, but it also has a long, imperfect, history of struggling to overcome race-based caste and resentment, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to George Floyd protests and the contemporary foibles of corporate HR. If, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” then it surely has not conveniently set itself to one side or the other of giant nations of human beings. Even the United States can, perhaps, be redeemed.

But there is no redemption, and no virtue, in warfare or atrocity. To seek justice, we must also seek peace. The frameworks, theories, words we use to envisage, evangelize, enact a better future are not handed down to us by God or nature or empirical sciences. We create these ideas, we devise, choose, and develop them. I beg you, when you build your theories, remember that you must include a hopeful future for everyone, even the people who for the moment you may imagine are “on the other side”. It is your work to persuade them, not to destroy them. “A defense of your convictions should never require or permit cruelty,” writes David French. There are no devils in this world, only humans. Both justice and peace demand that all us humans live and thrive and love together.


2 Responses to “No peace, no justice”

  1. csissoko writes:

    Steve, I usually agree with you. However, your take on wait supremacy here is very misguided. By definition, white supremacy leaves no room for peace with non white equals. How you can claim that those on the left who call this out are the ones who leave no room for peace is beyond me.

    No one can be asked to make peace with someone who wants to murder her. Peace can only take place once the murderous intent is renounced. On some issues the only reasonable approach is not to negotiate.

  2. Unanimous writes:

    @csissoko That’s not what he said. The only mention of white supremacists and the like is that they “serve the cause of neither peace nor justice.”. The other talk of race is about other people making wrong assumptions about race, also racist in a way, although not the same as racial supremisists.