Building peace in the minds of men and women

Peace: a new beginning

On 16 November 1945, UNESCO's Constitution was signed by forty-one states. It came into force a year later, on 4 November 1946, after being officially ratified by the first twenty signatories.

The mission of the new organization was, in a word, to construct the defences of peace so as to make war redundant. As well as being a matter for international agreements, peace was to be instilled into people's hearts and minds, into their private and public ambitions and their daily lives.

This idea had been formulated by Kant in the eighteenth century, but until the immediate aftermath of the Second World War its expression was compromised by the almost total supremacy of national self-interest. It was not until 1945, when the world contemplated the monstrous consequences to which this had led, that the victorious democracies proclaimed the principle of an intellectual and moral solidarity that included all humanity.

In this respect UNESCO's Constitution broke new ground. It stressed "that a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world." A more ambitious kind of peace was called for. States should seek to "develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples for the purposes of mutual understanding".

But another half century was to elapse before any real progress was made on this peace agenda. It took time the years between 1945 and 1989for the East-West confrontation between communism and capitalism to come to an end, and for the colonized peoples to attain political sovereignty and full membership of the international community.

The world scene has been transformed. The inegalitarian integration of economies and capital movements in a single market and the aggressive unification of technological standards and media networks have led to the development of paradoxical and explosive situations: growing cultural standardization at the same time as the exacerbation of tribal, ethnic and confessional reflexes; the rise of democratic ideals as well as the recrudescence of despotism.

In this general climate of instability in which countries large and small are tempted by introspection and isolationism, the struggle for peace is a far less straightforward process than it was. New dangers have appeared, but so too have new hopes.

The prospect of a global nuclear conflagration has receded. But while the threat of war has become less intensive it has become more extensive, in the form of internal conflicts within regions, countries, cities and even neighbourhoods. The great powers are less and less inclined to take action outside their own turf, but while this may encourage adventurism by petty local tyrants it may also foster self-expression on the part of peoples which are now freed from tutelage, as well as experiments in democracy and the invention of many new approaches to peace.

In such an open-ended context, the initiative of inspired and courageous leaders may bring an end injust situations that have existed for centuries. The imagination and civic spirit of private citizens now count for much more than they did. Many things that once seemed inevitable, including war, have ceased to be so.

The world outlook has radically changed, bringing new fears and new promises. It is time for a new departure on the road to peace. 

Discover this issue. Download the PDF. 

Online articles:

Our common home, by Edgar Morin. See also Edgar Morin in the UNESCO Courier

Nelson Mandela, a giant of our time, by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Jimmy Carter, the pilgrim-president, by Flora Lewis



November 1995

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