The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order

ISBN: 0300088663
ISBN 13: 9780300088663
By: Michael Eliot Howard

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About this book

Throughout history the overwhelming majority of human societies have taken war for granted and made it the basis for their legal and social structures. Not until the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century did war come to be regarded as an unmitigated evil and one that could be abolished by rational social organization, and only after the massive slaughter of the two world wars did this become the declared objective of civilized states. Nevertheless, war in one form or another continues unabated. In this elegantly written book, a preeminent military historian considers why this is so.Is war in some sense still a necessary element in international order? Are war and peace in fact complementary? Does not peace itself breed the conditions that will ultimately lead to war? And if nuclear weapons have made war ultimately suicidal for mankind, what can be done about it? Having devoted half a century largely to studying these questions, Michael Howard offers us his reflections. Unless they can be answered, he notes, the twenty-first century is unlikely to be any more peaceful than the centuries that preceded it.

Reader's Thoughts


A succinct history of war from the 800s to present in the context of western civilization. It posits that war is the natural state of asocial social humans. Our sociability is necessary for our survival but it will, on the other hand, always create tension and hostility and power struggles. Peace is a rickety invention all too easily destroyed by human kind's tribalism and warlike nature.


Scarcely more than a pamphlet, this book reiterates in broad strokes several of the major themes of "War and the Liberal Conscience." It's a mere 113 well-set and uncrowded pages, and those who read more quickly than a six-year old (or than me) can probably finish in two hours. You'd be fine to read only the last chapter, really, so long as you're familiar with the basic motifs of Western political and military thought over the last two centuries. Really, the book's whole point can be made in this one excellent sentence: "Peace is the order, however imperfect, that results from agreement between states, and can only be sustained by that agreement." Thus ever has it been so, and thus is it today.

Dimostenis Yagcioglu

A short and well-written history of war and peace in the western world. Howard emphasizes the fact that throughout much of history war was taken for granted and that the way we understand and value peace today is a relatively recent development -- a result of Enlightenment ideas. Whereas, starting in the late 18th century, peace gradually came to be seen as a grand objective, war, after the destruction and the slaughter of the wars of the last hundred years, began to be considered fundamentally evil. Yet, there is still a tendency in the international system to regard a limited war as a "necessary evil", as a tool that could be used under the "right" circumstances.

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