The Research Project Europe 1815-1914

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FI-00014 University of Helsinki



Paradoxes of Peace in 19th Century Europe: Statement

Organised by Thomas Hippler, Université de Lyon and
Miloš Vec, Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt/Main

 Points of Departure and Outline

The aim of this working group is to explore and highlight the contradictions and paradoxes in nineteenth-century discourses on peace, particularly in Europe. Rather than being opposites, war and peace do constitute each other, while constituting a normative order within the international realm. This normative order can be analysed as a discourse, inasmuch as it implies both power relations and the semantics of legitimacy and norms. It is the reference to the normative order that determines if a military operation is a war, a mission of ‘pacification’ or an intervention. Simultaneously, the reference to a normative order determines if an uprising is a menace to an international order or on the contrary, a necessary prerequisite to establish conditions of international legitimacy. The European semantic fields of key concepts conveying value (e g peace, war, free trade, civilization and culture) are complex and full of tensions. The working group aims at undermining any teleological understandings and categorizations in black and white in the imaginations of European peace.

The practices, ideologies and legal procedures of international adjudication and arbitration for peace attract the interest of the working group. Positivism and discourses on objectivity framed hopes to eliminate war through international legislation. International rules and tribunals were seen as instruments of peace and progress. The working group will problematize the emerging rhetoric on neutral arbitration and put questions about political interests and power relationships in the language of global mediation. What was the role of law and of international diplomacy in the age of cooperation and imperialism?

The straight line which is conventionally drawn between democracy and peace will be problematized and questioned. Kant was aware of the fragility of this line. He was keen to avoid democracies as the units that guaranteed global peace. He preferred predictable republics as the units of the world order. His realism on this point did not prevent him from dreaming of a perpetual peace under connection to a millenary European debate on the topic. However, behind the utopian expectations of perpetual peace were again and again bitter experiences of the frailness of the concept.

Combining the methody of conceptual history and history of discourse, we aim at problematicing the language of peace. The contentions around the concept of peace and the connections to other 19th century European key concepts like empire, security, civilization, barbarism, slavery, colonization will be mapped out and its religious dimension reflected upon. Its connections to transnationalisms and internationalisms will be investigated. Voices arguing for women’s emancipation often connected women’s liberation to the peace issue. The same was the case with many spokesmen of the emerging working class who argued that the ideology of internationalism of the labour movement was an instrument to prevent war. The working group will critically reflect on the connection between the language of women’s and workers internationalism (which has been labeled national internationalism) and the language of peace.

The working group will analyse war visions for peace and imaginations of domestic peace (e g around the social issue) through externalization of war. Which were the interrelations between the regional, national and international levels and concepts of peace? Other thematic fields deal with peace and technology as well as with the connection between media, fiction, and art on the one side, and peace ideologies one the other.

The working group will be organized around a number of thematic fields which all serve to highlight the contradictions, ambiguities and paradoxes of the 19th century European peace language:

  1. Peace conceptualizations and their transitions (empire, conquest, civilization, security, peace and pacification, religion and theology, peace movements);
  2. Transnationalisms (e g Young Europe) and internationalisms (e g the women’s and the labour movements);
  3. Ideologies of international adjudication and arbitration;
  4. The statesmen’s peace congresses (Vienna 1815, Paris 1856, Berlin 1878) versus the cosmopolitans’ peace congresses (1843-51): affinities and points in common as well as differences;
  5. Domestic peace through externalization of wars, nationalism, national constitutionalization and peace, democracy and peace, contradictions of liberalism;
  6. Peace, economy and free trade;
  7. Peace and technology ─ Peace in fiction and art:  hopes and threats.


The thematic fields constitute chapter clusters of a potential book to be edited and published as the outcome of the meetings of the working group.

Download statement pdf