From Publishers Weekly
In what seems at the moment a quixotic thesis, Schell argues that warfare is no longer the ultimate arbiter of political power and that a maturing tradition of nonviolent political action offers hope for a peaceful future. Schell, an eloquent antiwar essayist best known for The Fate of the Earth (1982), begins with a study of the modern "war system," which he says proceeds from Clausewitz's premise that wars are fought to secure political objectives. As wars grew increasingly devastating, they became unwieldy means to achieve political ends. Since no political goal justifies annihilation, the Cold War nuclear standoff made the war system obsolete. Meanwhile, people's revolutions were also contributing to the demise of the war system. Citing Gandhi's independence campaign and anti-Soviet dissident movements. Schell argues, not totally convincingly, that political liberation can be achieved by popular will alone, through passive resistance and active construction of civil society. As we enter what Schell calls "the second nuclear age," in which proliferation threatens us with a "nuclear 1914," he warns against the Bush administration's "Augustan" policies of "unchallengeable military domination." Schell proposes instead the development of cooperative institutions to promote four goals: banning weapons of mass destruction, using shared sovereignty to settle wars of self-determination, enforcing an international law prohibiting crimes against humanity and creating a "democratic league." Hard-nosed realists will consider these ideas nave pacifism. But at a time when Americans feel insecure despite overwhelming military superiority, Schell's radical rethinking of the relationship between war and political power offers a fresh and hopeful perspective.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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At the outset of this lucid survey of alternatives to warfare, the author disavows the label "pacifist": he is not opposed to the use of force, but he believes that it has become an ineffective tool for achieving political ends. On this pragmatic basis, Schell builds a case for civil noncoöperation, which he argues has long played a crucial role in deciding otherwise bloody conflicts (among them the American, French, and Russian Revolutions). Showing how nonviolent action proved successful in ending apartheid in South Africa and in dismantling the Soviet bloc, Schell writes with discipline and urgency. It's disappointing, then, that, once he has persuaded us of the need for peaceful solutions, those he offers—such as shared sovereignty—seem disconnected from the realities of politics today.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker