Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by the lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility and retribution, peace also suggests sincere attempts at reconciliation, the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all.
- Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have, and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are.
- This hand, to tyrants ever sworn the foe,
For freedom only deals the deadly blow;
Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade,
For gentle peace in freedom's hallowed shade.
- John Quincy Adams, written in an Album, as quoted in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 588-91
- Two sorts of peace are more to be dreaded than all the troubles in the world — peace with sin, and peace in sin.
- Joseph Alleine, An Alarm to Unconverted Sinners (first published 1671), p. 143
- Peace at home, peace in the world.
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as quoted in many sources including, Atatürk (1963) by Uluğ İğdemir, p. 200; and Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus (2000) by Svante E. Cornell, p. 287; this later became the motto of the Republic of Turkey.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that 'if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression', human rights should be protected by the rule of law. That just laws which uphold human rights are the necessary foundation of peace and security would be denied only by closed minds which interpret peace as the silence of all opposition and security as the assurance of their own power.
- Peace is never long preserved by weight of metal or by an armament race. Peace can be made tranquil and secure only by understanding and agreement fortified by sanctions. We must embrace international cooperation or international disintegration. Science has taught us how to put the atom to work. But to make it work for good instead of for evil lies in the domain dealing with the principles of human dignity. We are now facing a problem more of ethics than of physics.
- Bernard Baruch, Address to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (14 June 1946)
- If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we have ever prepared for war.
- The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes from within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.
- Black Elk in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953)
- Better than a thousand hollow words
Is one word that brings peace.
Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.
Better than a hundred hollow lines
Is one line of the law, bringing peace.
- It is truer today than when Alfred Nobel realized it a half-century ago, that peace cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Peace must be paced by human progress. Peace is no mere matter of men fighting or not fighting. Peace, to have meaning for many who have known only suffering in both peace and war, must be translated into bread or rice, shelter, health, and education, as well as freedom and human dignity - a steadily better life. If peace is to be secure, long-suffering and long-starved, forgotten peoples of the world, the underprivileged and the undernourished, must begin to realize without delay the promise of a new day and a new life.
- No matter what someone else has done, it still matters how we treat people. It matters to our humanity that we treat offenders according to standards that we recognize as just. Justice is not revenge — it's deciding for a solution that is oriented towards peace, peace being the harder but more human way of reacting to injury. That is the very basis of the idea of rights.
- Peace is a resistance to the terrible satisfactions of war.
- The trenchant blade Toledo trusty,
For want of fighting was grown rusty,
And ate into itself for lack
Of somebody to hew and hack.
- Mark! where his carnage and his conquests cease,
He makes a solitude and calls it—peace!
- Lord Byron, Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto II, Stanza 20
- Cedant arma togæ.
- War leads to peace.
- Cicero, De Officiis (44 B.C.), I. 22
- Equidem ad pacem hortari non desino; quae vel iniusta utilior est quam iustissimum bellum cum civibus.
- As for me, I cease not to advocate peace. It may be on unjust terms, but even so it is more expedient than the justest of civil wars. (Translation by E.O. Winstedt)
- Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum (Letters to Atticus) VII 14 (Latin and English) in the Loeb Classical Library, translated by E.O. Winstedt.
- Variant translations:
- I never cease urging peace, which, however unfair, is better than the justest war in the world.
- An unjust peace is better than a just war.
- Adaptations and paraphrases:
- Iniquissimam pacem justissimo bello antefero.
- I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war.
- Idea used by Butler in the Rump Parliament, by Benjamin Franklin, in letter to Quincey (11 September 1773), Bishop Colet, St. Paul's, London (1512), Green's History of the English People, The New Learning, as reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 588-91
- I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war.
- Mihi enim omnis pax cum civibus bello civili utilior videbatur.
- For to me every sort of peace with the citizens seemed to be of more service than civil war.
- Cicero, Philippics, 2. 15. 37
- Mars gravior sub pace latet.
- A severe war lurks under the show of peace.
- Claudianus, De Sexto Consulatu Honorii Augusti Panegyris, 307
- Nec sidera pacem
- Nor is heaven always at peace.
- Claudianus, De Bello Getico, LXII
- My name is Charles Xavier. I am a mutant. And once upon a time I had a dream... of a world where all Earth's children, both mutant and baseline human, might live together in peace. This isn't it. This is today's reality.
- Peace cannot just be wished; it involves hard work, courage and persistence... Let us harness our collective energies to create a culture of peace and a land of prosperity.
- Arthur C. Clarke, as quoted in the "Sri Lanka" in Sunday Times (31 December 2000).
- The gentleman [Josiah Quincy] cannot have forgotten his own sentiment, uttered even on the floor of this House, "Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must."
- I craved for peace, and priceless years expended
In unrewarded search from shore to shore;
But home returned, the weary seeking ended,
Peace welcomed me where dwelt my peace of yore!
- Ah, well! we talk of war,
But peace is so much kinder,
That all our strife is for
Is just the hope to find her:
And see!—how Spring, with look serene,
Is garlanding her halls in green!
- My goal is peace,—not peace at any price,
While yet ensanguined jaws of Evil yawn
Hungry and pitiless: Nay, peace were vice
Until the cruel dragon-teeth be drawn,
And the wronged victims of Oppression be
Delivered from its hateful rule, and free!
- Peace rules the day, where reason rules the mind.
- When things are investigated, then true knowledge is achieved; when true knowledge is achieved, then the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, then the heart is set right (or then the mind sees right); when the heart is set right, then the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, then the family life is regulated; when the family life is regulated, then the national life is orderly; and when the national life is orderly, then there is peace in this world.
- Confucius, Liki (Record of Rites), chapter 42; in Lin Yutang, ed. and trans., The Wisdom of Confucius (1938), chapter 4, p. 139–40
- We shall never be at peace with ourselves until we yield with glad supremacy to our higher faculties.
- Joseph Cook, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 477
- O for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade;
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more.
- Though peace be made, yet it's interest that keeps peace.
- Quoted by Oliver Cromwell, in Parliament (4 September 1654), as "a maxim not to be despised", as quoted in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 588-91
- Yes, God and the politicians willing, the United States can declare peace upon the world, and win it.
- If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
- The Puritans had accused the Quakers of "troubling the world by preaching peace to it." They refused to pay church taxes; they refused to bear arms; they refused to swear allegiance to any government.
- At present the peace of the world has been preserved, not by statesmen, but by capitalists.
- Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Mrs. Sarah Brydges Willyams (October 17, 1863), published in The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (1916) W. F. Monypenny and George E. Buckle, vol. 4, p. 339
- Such subtle covenants shall be made,
Till peace itself is war in masquerade.
- John Dryden, Absalom and Achitopel, Part I, line 752; Part II, line 268
- At home the hateful names of parties cease,
And factious souls are wearied into peace.
- Peace is an unstable equilibrium, which can be preserved only by acknowledged supremacy or equal power.
- Peace without Justice is a low estate,—
A coward cringing to an iron Fate!
But Peace through Justice is the great ideal,—
We'll pay the price of war to make it real.
- Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. You cannot subjugate a nation forcibly unless you wipe out every man, woman, and child. Unless you wish to use such drastic measures, you must find a way of settling your disputes without resort to arms.
- Albert Einstein, in a speech to the New History Society (14 December 1930), reprinted in "Militant Pacifism" in Cosmic Religion (1931). Also found in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice, p. 158
- All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.
- Albert Einstein, "Moral Decay" (1937); later published in Out of My Later Years (1950)
- I like to believe that people, in the long run, are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, radio and television broadcast with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, London, August 31, 1959. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959, p. 625
- I could not live in peace if I put the shadow of a willful sin between myself and God.
- George Eliot, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 448
- Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
- I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He'll see the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again.
Peace on Earth, can it be?
Can it be?
- Peace is a practical positive policy, which must be attained by friendly co-operation between the nations, putting the good of all before the interests of each.
- If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions. But we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.
- Let not thy peace depend on the tongues of men; for whether they judge well of thee or ill, thou art not on that account other than thyself. Where are true peace and true glory? Are they not in God?
- Breathe soft, ye winds! ye waves, in silence sleep!
- Pax vobiscum.
- Peace be with you.
- Vulgate, Genesis XLIII 23
- If you look at human society, it is very easy, of course, to compare our warfare and territoriality with the chimpanzee. But that's only one side of what we do. We also trade, we intermarry, we allow each other to travel through our territory. There's an enormous amount of cooperation. Indeed, among hunter-gatherers, peace is common 90 percent of the time, and war takes place only a small part of the time. Chimps cannot tell us anything about peaceful relations, because chimps have only different degrees of hostility between communities. Whereas bonobos do tell us something; they tell us about the possibility of having peaceful relationships.
- At the time, I was interested in reconciliation after fights, and I wanted to know how bonobos did it compared to chimpanzees. Very soon I discovered that they were much more sexual in everything they did, and that interested me—not so much for the sex part, even though that became a very hot topic, the peacemaking-through-sex thing—but much more how they have such a peaceful society, because they are much less violent than chimpanzees.
- Let us have peace.
- I accept your nomination in the confident trust that the masses of our countrymen, North and South, are eager to clasp hands across the bloody chasm which has so long divided them.
- Horace Greeley, accepting the Liberal Republican nomination for President (May 20, 1872)
- On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson: that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.
- Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just. And how can we fight for liberty if we are not free in our own minds? How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?... Only in true surrender to the interest of all can we reach that strength and independence, that unity of purpose, that equity of judgment which are necessary if we are to measure up to our duty to the future, as men of a generation to whom the chance was given to build in time a world of peace.
- The pursuit of peace and progress cannot end in a few years in either victory or defeat. The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.
- The situation of the world is still like this. People completely identify with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of a citizen of the Soviet Union, we have to become one with him or her. To do so is dangerous — we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don't do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.
- Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
- If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it.'
- But—a stirring thrills the air
Like to sounds of joyance there,
* That the rages
- Of the ages
Shall be cancelled, and deliverance offered from the darts that were,
Consciousness the Will informing, till it fashion all things fair.
- Thomas Hardy, Dynasts, Semichorus I of the Years
- Of the ages
- When Christ was about to leave the world, He made His will. His soul He committed to His father; His body He bequeathed to Joseph to be decently interred; His clothes fell to the soldiers; His mother He left to the care of John; but what should He leave to His poor disciples that had left all for Him? Silver and gold He had none; but He left them that which was infinitely better, His peace.
- Matthew Henry, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 445
- The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.
- James Hinton, Philosophy and Religion: Selections from the Manuscripts of the Late James Hinton, ed. Caroline Haddon, (2nd ed., London: 1884), p. 267.
- Widely misattributed on the internet to John Dewey, who actually attributes it to Hinton in Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New York: 1922), p. 115
- So peaceful shalt thou end thy blissful days,
And steal thyself from life by slow decays.
- Homer, The Odyssey, Book XI, line 164. Pope's translation
- In pace ut sapiens aptarit idonea bello.
- Like as a wise man in time of peace prepares for war.
- Horace, Satires, II. 2. 111
- Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angelwriting in a book of gold…
- Leigh Hunt, in "Abou Ben Adhem" (or "Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel"), in The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt (1846)
- Dr. Light: So you've come...X, I gave you the ability to choose your own path in life, and I hoped the world would allow you to choose a peaceful one. But now it seems that you are destined to fight. Because I thought the world might need a new champion, I have hidden capsules like this one. If you find and use them you will be able to increase your powers beyond anything the world has ever known. Good luck, X!
- Narrator: The war has ended for now and peace has been restored. But those who sacrificed themselves for the victory will never return.
- Exhausted, X gazes at the destruction he helped cause and wonders why he chose to fight. Was there another way?
- Standing on the cliff, the answers seem to escape him. He only knows that he'll fight the Mavericks again before he finds his answer.
- How long will he keep on fighting? How long will his pain last? Maybe only the X-Buster on his hand knows for sure...
- Joined by his friend Zero, Mega Man X gazes out over the sea. Sigma has once again been destroyed, but X wonders if the fighting will truly end. Was Dr. Light's dream of a world in which Reploids and humans lived together in peace merely a dream? The price of peace is often high, X thinks to himself. Who or what must be sacrificed for it to become a reality? And when the time comes, will he be able to do it? The future holds the answers or...
- Keiji Inafune, Sho Tsuge and Yoshihisa Tsuda Mega Man X2
- They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
- Isaiah, 2:4; also in Joel 3:10, and Micah 4:3
- To the increase of his rulership
- And to peace, there will be no end.
- The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
- I maintain, then, that we should make peace, not only with the Chians, the Rhodians, the Byzantines and the Coans, but with all mankind...
- Isocrates, "On the Peace", c. 355 B.C. In Isocrates (1929), as translated by George Norlin, Loeb Classical Library
- Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.
- Andrew Jackson, as quoted in Many Thoughts of Many Minds: A Treasury of Quotations from the Literature of Every Land and Every Age (1896) edited by Louis Klopsch, p. 209
- Maybe tomorrow when He looks down
Every green field and every town
All of his children every nation
There'll be peace and good, brotherhood…
Crystal blue persuasion.
- The Palestinians need an America that is just in its vision and in its demands. It is true that the Palestinians are the weaker party in terms of the balance of power, which makes it easy to pressure them. But peace cannot be bullied into existence.
- Defining the Jewish State (6 March 2014) by Ali Jarbawi (a political scientist at Birzeit University and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority) in The New York Times's section The Opinion Pages: Contributing Op-Ed Writer with regard to the Peace process in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; A version of this online op-ed appeared in print on March 7, 2014, in The International New York Times.
- Peace with all nations, and the right which that gives us with respect to all nations, are our object.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mr. Dumas (March 24, 1793); H. A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 3, p. 535
- That peace, safety, and concord may be the portion of our native land, and be long enjoyed by our fellow-citizens, is the most ardent wish of my heart, and if I can be instrumental in procuring or preserving them, I shall think I have not lived in vain.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Waring and others (March 23, 1801); in Andrew A. Lipscomb, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11 (1903), p. 235
- Believing that the happiness of mankind is best promoted by the useful pursuits of peace, that on these alone a stable prosperity can be founded, that the evils of war are great in their endurance, and have a long reckoning for ages to come, I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Young Republicans of Pittsburg (December 2, 1808), in H. A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1871), vol. 8, p. 142
- They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
- Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
- Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
- Mexicans: let us now pledge all our efforts to obtain and consolidate the benefits of peace. Under its auspices, the protection of the laws and of the authorities will be sufficient for all the inhabitants of the Republic. May the people and the government respect the rights of all. Between individuals, as between nations, peace means respect for the rights of others.
- Benito Juárez, as quoted in Global History, Volume Two : The Industrial Revolution to the Age of Globalization (2008) by Jerry Weiner, Mark Willner, George A. Hero and Bonnie-Anne Briggs, p. 175
- We love peace as we abhor pusillanimity; but not peace at any price. There is a peace more destructive of the manhood of living man than war is destructive of his material body. Chains are worse than bayonets.
- It is thus that mutual cowardice keeps us in peace. Were one-half of mankind brave and one-half cowards, the brave would be always beating the cowards. Were all brave, they would lead a very uneasy life; all would be continually fighting; but being all cowards, we go on very well.
- Peace and love are ever in us, being and working; but we be not always in peace and in love.
- All that is contrary to love and peace is of the Fiend and of his part.
- Sævis inter se convenit ursis.
- Savage bears keep at peace with one another.
- I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
- Helen Keller, as quoted in Henry More: The Rational Theology of a Cambridge Plattonist (1962) by Aharon Lichtenstein
- Peace is not solely a matter of military or technical problems — it is primarily a problem of politics and people. And unless man can match his strides in weaponry and technology with equal strides in social and political development, our great strength, like that of the dinosaur, will become incapable of proper control — and like the dinosaur vanish from the earth.
- So let us here resolve that Dag Hammarskjöld did not live, or die, in vain. Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And, as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.
- John F. Kennedy, address before the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York City (25 September 1961); in The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 619
- No one should be under the illusion that negotiations for the sake of negotiations always advance the cause of peace. If for lack of preparation they break up in bitterness, the prospects of peace have been endangered. If they are made a forum for propaganda or a cover for aggression, the processes of peace have been abused.
- What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
- I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
- John F. Kennedy in his "A Strategy of Peace" speech at American University in Washington, DC (10 June 1963)
- I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace— based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions—on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace—no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process—a way of solving problems.
- John F. Kennedy in his "A Strategy of Peace" speech at American University in Washington, DC (10 June 1963)
- Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.
- Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man made—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.
- The task of building the peace lies with the leaders of every nation, large and small. For the great powers have no monopoly on conflict or ambition. The cold war is not the only expression of tension in this world — and the nuclear race is not the only arms race. Even little wars are dangerous in a nuclear world. The long labor of peace is an undertaking for every nation — and in this effort none of us can remain unaligned. To this goal none can be uncommitted.
- John F. Kennedy in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (20 September 1963)
- Chronic disputes which divert precious resources from the needs of the people or drain the energies of both sides serve the interests of no one — and the badge of responsibility in the modern world is a willingness to seek peaceful solutions.
- John F. Kennedy in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (20 September 1963)
- But peace does not rest in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. And if it is cast out there, then no act, no pact, no treaty, no organization can hope to preserve it without the support and the wholehearted commitment of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper; let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace, in the hearts and minds of all our people.
- John F. Kennedy in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (20 September 1963)
- There have been keen agonies, sore heart-aches, but they have been short, and a sweet peace abides. Can it be His peace? Is it possible that to such a weak, sinful creature as I, the Comforter has indeed come? I must believe this, and that it is His presence that cheers me.
- Arthur Henry Kenney, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 446
- The present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
- We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say "We must not wage war." It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace. … We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a "peace race". If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.
Is one word that brings peace.
Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.
In 2006, I published a book called Better Never to Have Been. I argued that coming into existence is always a serious harm. People should never, under any circumstance, procreate – a position called ‘anti-natalism’. In response, readers wrote letters of appreciation, support and, of course, there was outrage. But I also got this message, which is the most wrenching feedback I have received:
I have suffered horribly since I was a teen because of severe bullying in school that left me profoundly traumatised to the point I had to abandon school. Unhappily, I also have terrible looks and I’ve been judged, mocked, insulted because of being ‘too ugly’ even by random strangers in the street what usually happens almost daily. I’ve been called the ugliest person they ever seen. That’s extremely hard to deal with. Then, to finish it, I’ve been diagnosed with a serious congenital heart disease when I was just 18, and today in my early 20s, I suffer from severe heart failure and malignant arrhythmia that threaten to kill me. My heart has almost stopped many times and I deal with the fear of sudden death each day of my existence. I am petrified by fear of death and the agony and torment of imminent death is indescribable. I don’t have much time left and the unavoidable will happen soon. My life has been pure hell and I don’t even know what to think anymore. Certainly, sentencing someone to such a world is the worst of all crimes, and a serious moral violation. If it wasn’t by my parents’ selfish desire, I wouldn’t be here today suffering what I suffer for no reason at all, I could have been spared in the absolute peace of non-existence but I am here living this daily torture.
One does not have to be an anti-natalist to be moved by these words (which are quoted with permission). Some might be inclined to say my correspondent’s situation is an exceptional one, which should not incline us towards anti-natalism. However, severe suffering is not a rare phenomenon, and thus anti-natalism is a view that, at the very least, should be taken seriously and considered with an open mind.
The idea of anti-natalism is not new. In Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, the chorus declares that ‘not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best’. A similar idea is expressed in Ecclesiastes. In the East, both Hinduism and Buddhism have a negative view of existence (even if they do not often go so far as to oppose procreation). Various thinkers since then have also recognised how pervasive suffering is, which moved them to explicitly oppose procreation: Arthur Schopenhauer might be the most famous, but others include Peter Wessel Zapffe, Emil Cioran and Hermann Vetter.
Anti-natalism will only ever be a minority view because it runs counter to a deep biological drive to have children. However, it is precisely because it is up against such odds that thoughtful people should pause and reflect rather than hastily dismiss it as mad or wicked. It is neither. Of course, distortions of anti-natalism, and especially attempts to impose it forcefully, might well be dangerous – but the same is true of many other views. Appropriately interpreted, it is not anti-natalism but its opposite that is the dangerous idea. Given how much misfortune there is – all of it attendant on being brought into existence – it would be better if there were not an unbearable lightness of bringing into being.
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But even if life isn’t pure suffering, coming into existence can still be sufficiently harmful to render procreation wrong. Life is simply much worse than most people think, and there are powerful drives to affirm life even when life is terrible. People might be living lives that were actually not worth starting without recognising that this is the case.
The suggestion that life is worse than most people think is often met with indignation. How dare I tell you how poor the quality of your life is! Surely the quality of your life is as good as it seems to you? Put another way, if your life feels as though it has more good than bad, how could you possibly be mistaken?
It is curious that the same logic is rarely applied to those who are depressed or suicidal. In these cases, most optimists are inclined to think that subjective assessments can be mistaken. However, if the quality of life can be underestimated it can also be overestimated. Indeed, unless one collapses the distinction between how much good and bad one’s life actually contains and how much of each a person thinks it contains, it becomes clear that people can be mistaken about the former. Both overestimation and underestimation of life’s quality are possible, but empirical evidence of various cognitive biases, most importantly an optimism bias, suggests that overestimation is the more common error.
Destruction is easier than construction. Many desires are never satisfied
Considering matters carefully, it’s obvious that there must be more bad than good. This is because there are empirical asymmetries between the good and bad things. The worst pains, for instance, are worse than the best pleasures are good. If you doubt this, ask yourself – honestly – whether you would accept a minute of the worst tortures in exchange for a minute or two of the greatest delights. And pains tend to last longer than pleasures. Compare the fleeting nature of gustatory and sexual pleasures with the enduring character of much pain. There are chronic pains, of the lower back or joints for example, but there is no such thing as chronic pleasure. (An enduring sense of satisfaction is possible, but so is an enduring sense of dissatisfaction, and thus this comparison does not favour the preponderance of the good.)
Injury occurs quickly but recovery is slow. An embolus or projectile can fell you in an instant – and if you’re not killed, healing will be slow. Learning takes a lifetime but can be obliterated in an instant. Destruction is easier than construction.
When it comes to the satisfaction of desires, things are also stacked against us. Many desires are never satisfied. And even when they are satisfied, it is often after a long period of dissatisfaction. Nor does satisfaction last, for the satisfaction of a desire leads to a new desire – which itself needs to be satisfied some time in the future. When one can fulfil one’s more basic desires, such as hunger, on a regular basis, higher-level desires arise. There is a treadmill and an escalator of desire.
In other words, life is a state of continual striving. We have to expend effort to ward off unpleasantness – for example, to prevent pain, assuage thirst, and minimise frustration. In the absence of our strivings, the unpleasantness comes all too easily, for that is the default.
When lives go as well as they practically can go, they are much worse than they ideally would be. For example, knowledge and understanding are good things. But the most knowledgeable and insightful among us know and understand inordinately less than there is to know and understand. So, again, we fare badly. If longevity (in good health) is a good thing, then once more our condition is much worse than it ideally would be. A robust life of 90 years is much closer to 10 or 20 years than it is to a life of 10,000 or 20,000 years. The actual (almost) always falls short of the ideal.
Optimists respond to these observations with a brave face. They argue that although life does contain much that is bad, the bad things are necessary (in some or other way) for the good things. Without pain, we would not avoid injury; without hunger, meals would not satisfy; without striving, there would be no achievement.
But plenty of bad things are clearly gratuitous. Is it really necessary that children are born with congenital abnormalities, that thousands of people starve to death every day, and that the terminally ill suffer their agonies? Do we really need to suffer pain in order to enjoy pleasure?
Even if one thinks that the bad is needed, perhaps to better appreciate the good, one must admit that it would be better if that were not the case. That is, life would be better if we could have the good without the bad. In this way, our lives are much worse than they could be. Again, the actual is much worse than the ideal.
Another optimistic response is to suggest that I am setting an impossible standard. According to this objection, it is unreasonable to hold that, say, our intellectual attainments and our maximum lifespan should be judged by standards that are humanly impossible. Human lives must be judged by human standards, they could argue.
The problem is that this argument confuses the question ‘How good a life can a human reasonably expect?’ with the question ‘How good is human life?’ It is perfectly reasonable to employ human standards in answering the first question. However, if we are interested in the second question, we cannot answer it simply by noting that human life is as good as human life is, which is what employing human standards involves. (An analogy: given that a mouse’s lifespan in the wild is usually less than a year, a two- or three-year-old mouse might be doing really well – but just for a mouse. It does not follow that mice fare well on the longevity standard. Mice are, in this way, worse off than humans, who are worse off than bowhead whales.)
A show might not be bad enough to leave, but would you have come at all if you knew how bad it would be?
Given all the foregoing, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that all lives contain more bad than good, and that they are deprived of more good than they contain. However, such is the affirmation of life that most people cannot recognise this.
One important explanation for this is that in deliberating about whether their lives were worth starting, many people actually (but typically unwittingly) consider a different question, namely whether their lives are worth continuing. Because they imagine themselves not existing, their reflection on non-existence is with reference to a self that already exists. It is then quite easy to slip into thinking about the loss of that self, which is what death is. Given the life drive, it is not surprising that people come to the conclusion that existence is preferable.
Asking whether it would be better never to have existed is not the same as asking whether it would be better to die. There is no interest in coming into existence. But there is an interest, once one exists, in not ceasing to exist. There are tragic cases in which the interest in continuing to exist is overridden, often to end unbearable suffering. However, if we are to say that somebody’s life is not worth continuing, the bad things in life do need to be sufficiently bad to override the interest in not dying. By contrast, because there is no interest in coming into existence, there is no interest that the bad things need to override in order for us to say that it would be better not to create the life. So the quality of a life must be worse in order for the life to be not worth continuing than it need be in order for it to be not worth starting. (This sort of phenomenon is not unusual: a performance at the theatre, for example, might not be bad enough to leave, but if you knew in advance that it would be as bad as it is, you would not have come in the first place.)
The difference between a life not worth starting and a life not worth continuing partly explains why anti-natalism does not imply either suicide or murder. It can be the case that one’s life was not worth starting without it being the case that one’s life is not worth continuing. If the quality of one’s life is still not bad enough to override one’s interest in not dying, then one’s life is still worth continuing, even though the current and future harms are sufficient to make it the case that one’s life was not worth starting. Moreover, because death is bad, even when it ceases to be bad all-things-considered, it is a consideration against procreation – as well as against murder and suicide.
There are further reasons why an anti-natalist should be opposed to murder. One of these is that one person should not force on another competent person a decision whether the latter’s life has ceased to be worth continuing. Because nobody can be certain about these matters, such a decision should, where possible, be made and acted upon by the person who will either live or die as a result.
The confusion between starting a life and continuing a life is not the only way in which life-affirmation clouds people’s ability to see that life contains more bad than good. Having children is widely seen as one of the most profound and satisfying experiences one can have – though hard work, of course. Many people do it, for reasons of biology, culture and love. Given how rewarding and widespread procreation is, it is really difficult to see it as wrong.
The case against procreation need not rest on the view, for which I have been arguing, that coming into existence is always worse than never existing. It is enough to show that the risk of serious harm is sufficiently high.
If you think, as most people do, that death is a serious harm, then the risk of suffering such a calamity is 100 per cent. Death is the fate of everybody who comes into existence. When you conceive a child, it is just a matter of time until the ultimate injury befalls that child. Many people, at least in times and places where infant mortality is low, are spared witnessing this appalling consequence of their reproduction. That might insulate them against the horror, but they should nonetheless know that every birth is a death in waiting.
With the cumulative risks of all the misfortunes that can befall us, the odds are stacked deeply against any child
Some might wish to follow the Epicureans in denying that death itself is bad. However, even discounting death itself – no mean feat – there is a wide range of appalling fates that can befall any child that is brought into existence: starvation, rape, abuse, assault, serious mental illness, infectious disease, malignancy, paralysis. These cause vast amounts of suffering before the person dies. Prospective parents impose these risks on the children they create.
The magnitude of the risk obviously varies, depending on such factors as one’s geographical and temporal locations, and one’s sex. Even controlling for these variables, the lifetime risks are often difficult to quantify. For example, rape is significantly underreported, but there are conflicting data on just how underreported it is. Similarly, studies on mental diseases such as major depressive disorders often underestimate the lifetime risk, in part because some of the subjects have not yet experienced the depression that will later affect them. Even if we take the low estimates, in the cumulative risks of all the different misfortunes that can befall people, the odds are stacked deeply against any child. The risks of cancer alone are substantial: in the United Kingdom, roughly 50 per cent of people will develop the disease. If people imposed that sort of risk of that sort of harm on others in non-procreative contexts, they would be very widely condemned. The same standards should be applied to procreation.
The foregoing arguments all criticise procreation on the grounds of what procreation does to the person who is brought into existence. These I call philanthropic arguments for anti-natalism; there is also a misanthropic argument. What is distinctive about this argument is that it criticises procreation on the grounds of the harm that the created person will (likely) do. It is presumptively wrong to create new beings that are likely to cause significant harm to others.
Homo sapiens is the most destructive species, and vast amounts of this destruction are wreaked on other humans. Humans have killed one another since the origin of the species, but the scale (not rate) of killing has expanded (not least because there are now so many more humans to kill than there were for most of human history). The means by which many millions of humans have been killed have been dismally diverse. They include stabbing, hacking, slashing, hanging, gassing, poisoning, drowning, and bombing. Humans also visit other horrors on their fellows, including persecuting, oppressing, beating, branding, maiming, tormenting, torturing, raping, kidnapping, and enslaving.
The optimists argue that prospective children are unlikely to be among the perpetrators of such evil, and this is true: only a small proportion of children will become perpetrators of the worst barbarities against humans. However, a much larger proportion of humanity facilitates such evils. Persecution and oppression often require the acquiescence or complicity of a multitude of humans.
In any event, the harm that humans do to other humans is not restricted to the most serious violations of human rights. Daily life is filled with dishonesty, betrayal, negligence, cruelty, hurtfulness, impatience, exploitation, betrayals of confidence, and breaches of privacy. Even when these do not kill or physically injure, they can cause considerable psychological and other damage. Of such harms, everybody is, to varying degrees, a perpetrator.
Those who are unconvinced that the harm caused by the average child to other humans is sufficient to support the anti-natalist conclusion will have to reckon with the immense harm that humans do to animals. More than 63 billion terrestrial animals and, by very conservative estimates, more than 103 billion aquatic animals are killed for human consumption every year. The amount of death and suffering is simply staggering.
If any other species caused as much damage as humans do, we would think it wrong to breed new members of that species
All this is caused by the human appetite for animal flesh and products, an appetite shared by the great majority of humans. Using very conservative estimates, every human (who is not a vegetarian or vegan) is, on average, responsible for the death of 27 animals per year, or 1,690 animals over the course of a lifetime.
Perhaps you think that by raising vegan children you can evade the reach of the misanthropic argument. However, each new child, even if a vegan, is very likely to contribute to environmental damage, one of the means whereby humans harm humans and other animals. In the developed world, the per-capita contribution to environmental degradation is considerable. It is much lower in the developing world, but the much higher birthrate there offsets the per-capita saving.
If any other species caused as much damage as humans do, we would think it wrong to breed new members of that species. The breeding of humans should be held to the same standard.
This does not imply that we should take a leap further and attempt to eradicate humans through a species-wide ‘final solution’. Although humans are massively destructive, attempting to eradicate the species would cause considerable harm and violate appropriate proscriptions on murder. It might well also be counterproductive, causing more destruction than it seeks to prevent, as so many violent utopians have done.
The misanthropic argument does not deny that humans can do good in addition to causing harm. However, given the volume of harm, it seems unlikely that the good would generally outweigh it. There might be individual cases of people who do more good than harm, but given the incentives for self-deception in this regard, couples who are contemplating procreation should be extraordinarily skeptical that the children they create will be the rare exceptions.
Just as those wanting a companion animal should adopt an unwanted dog or cat rather than breed new animals, so those who want to rear a child should adopt rather than procreate. Of course, there are not enough unwanted children to satisfy all those who would like to parent, and there would be even fewer if more of those producing the unwanted children were to take anti-natalism to heart. However, so long as there are unwanted children, their existence is a further reason against others breeding.
Rearing children, whether one’s biological offspring or adopted, can bring satisfaction. If the number of unwanted children were to ever come to zero, anti-natalism would entail the deprivation of this benefit to those who accept the moral prohibition on creating children. That does not mean that we should reject anti-natalism. The reward of becoming a parent does not outweigh the serious harm procreation will cause to others.
The question is not whether humans will become extinct, but rather when they will. If the anti-natalist arguments are correct, it would be better, all things being equal, if this happened sooner rather than later for, the sooner it happens, the more suffering and misfortune will be avoided.
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is professor of philosophy and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, where he is also the director of the Bioethics Centre. His latest book is The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions (2017).