Moralism and Instrumentalism in Peace Scholarship
By Stephen Gowans
Peace scholars are concerned with the question of how to achieve victory, which is to say peace on the terms of whatever side they support, without using violence. They come in two sizes: moralists and instrumentalists. The moralists abhor violence on moral grounds, while the instrumentalists see both violence and non-violence as tools but believe there are circumstances where non-violence has greater instrumental value, that is, is more likely to bring about victory at lower cost.
For example, it’s not always possible to take political power by invading another country. And where it is possible, the expense in blood and treasure may be undesirably large. It may be cheaper and more effective to train, organize and support foreign activists to use “a panoply of forceful sanctions—strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, even nonviolent sabotage—in accordance with a strategy for undermining” the target government’s “pillars of support.” That’s the way the instrumentalist peace scholars at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict put it.
The ICNC is the phony left-wing outfit founded by Wall Street-Washington insider Peter Ackerman. The organization is largely concerned with the destabilization scenarios the CIA has a history of engineering in countries it is too costly and militarily unfeasible to invade. These days the ICNC dresses up destabilization with the high-sounding phrase “non-violent pro-democracy activism” to sell it to the gullible. Sounds good, but what it really means is fomenting conflicts in countries, which while accused of being undemocratic and hostile to human rights, have earned Washington’s enmity for rejecting free trade and unconditional foreign investment and failing to enshrine private property rights. The conflicts are resolved on Washington’s terms, when a new “democratic” free-market government takes power and opens the country to US military bases and unconditional integration into the US economy on terms that favor US investors and corporations, that is, the people Peter Ackerman hangs out with. It is, you see, a class thing.
Many, if not all, of the peace scholars on the ICNC’s academic advisory board lead modest lives far removed from Ackerman’s rarefied circles, though at least one of them has met with the CIA and RAND Corporation (more the company Ackerman keeps.) Apparently, Washington’s spooks, despite their fondness for predator drones, assassinations, and paramilitary activities, are keenly interested in peace scholarship. But then, they’re instrumentalists.
Still, some of the ICNC’s peace scholars are, one suspects, moralists lured by who knows what (appeals to their vanity? research grants?) into the service of the instrumentalists. We’re not bad guys, really, they must say. After all, we’re against war (of the violent kind, anyway), and systems of domination, and we’re for democracy and opportunities for people to control their lives collectively.
Trouble is, their track record is lousy. What people power nonviolent revolution has undermined systems of domination and created space for people to control their lives collectively? In Serbia, Georgia and the Philippines – paragons of people power, according to the ICNC PR shop — the very opposite happened. A system of domination controlled by the United States was imposed and people were locked into a low-level form of 60-seconds-in-the-ballot-box-every-four-years democracy, casting ballots for whoever raises enough money to have a fighting chance in the marketing campaigns that pass for modern elections. (Those with connections to wealth have an advantage here.)
But, then, is it any wonder that the peace scholars’ track record in bringing about what they claim to believe in, is so horribly wrong? Ackerman, the ICNC’s founding chair, is an admitted instrumentalist whose background and connections leave no doubt as to his orientation to peace scholarship: great, if it can be used to sweep away governments whose tariffs, subsidies and other protections diminish the profit-making goals of people, like himself, with bags of money to invest. This is what people power revolutions are really all about if you look at the economic policies of the governments targeted by these kinds of exercises. Otherwise, one suspects Ackerman views peace scholarship as a Sunday school for dreamers with their heads in the clouds.