In-Depth

Peace and the Social Condition: Introduction

To skip this introduction and go directly to read the In-Depth Analysis, “Peace and the Social Condition: Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize,” click here.

In today’s “in depth” post, I use a close reading of Barack Obama’s Nobel Lecture to examine peace and the social condition. It is a continuation of a lifetime exploration. Over the years, I have been impressed by the specific promise and limitations of the force of arms and of non-violent collective action

When I was a young man, I tried to be a pacifist, as I reported here. I was strongly opposed to the war in Vietnam, didn’t want to take part, explored the possibility of being a conscientious objector, but perceived the limits of nonviolent resistance. I couldn’t convince myself that it was possible to effectively fight against Nazism without the force of arms. I couldn’t become a pacifist.

Yet, as an adult, and as an eyewitness to the successful democratic revolutions in Central Europe, I was just as impressed by the way non-violent action could be more effective than violence, seeing the success of my friends and colleagues in the so called velvet revolutions around the old Soviet bloc, as being greatly influenced by the character of their non-violent collective action. The non-violent democratic means had a way of constituting the end, imperfect, but nonetheless, truly functioning democracies. This insight informed my explorations of “the politics of small things” and “reinventing political culture.” in the midst of the disastrous “war on terrorism.”

The means have a way of determining the ends. This is a key proposition, which has informed my political reflections in recent years, concerning the transformation of Central Europe, and also concerning the attempted transformations in the Middle East and North Africa, and to politics of Occupy Wall Street. The proposition also informs my review and analysis here of President Obama’s Nobel Lecture (Obama, 2009) as an exploration of the topic of peace and the social condition. I think Obama confronted the complexity of the social condition, though the situation of his winning the prize was both awkward and rightly controversial from a variety of different points of view. The controversy reflects the complicated relationships between violence and non-violence, war and peace, and, ironically, given the depth of Obama’s speech, his response to the controversy have confirmed that Obama earned his prize. This is my tentative conclusion in my latest analysis of Barack Obama as the American storyteller-in-chief.

To read “Peace and the Social Condition: Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize,” click here.