"Boundaries of History": Book presentation "Conquering Peace: From the Enlightenment to the European Union" by Stella Ghervas
Stella Ghervas (University of Newcastle), visiting scholar at the Department of History, presented her book "Conquering Piece: From the Enlightenment to the European Union" (2021) on the idea of peace and the attempts to implement it in practice during the long period from the Enlightenment to the establishment of the European Union at the seminar "Boundaries of History".
The focus of Stella Ghervas' work is to analyze the texts of peace treaties that were negotiated after major European conflicts, namely Peace of Utrecht (1714), Congress of Vienna (1815), Treaty of Versailles (1919), a set of peace agreements introduced after World War II, and the Maastricht Treaty (1993). Examining the texts of these documents as well as measures designed to realize the principles they put forward, Ghervas points to the influence of ideas about peace and the imagined conditions of its continuous existence that were reflected in them. These ideas and visions ultimately determined the direction of thoughts and actions of the ‘architects of peace’ i.e., diplomats.
The idea behind the book first seems to be somewhat provocative, as histories of wars have long defined the narrative about the formation of Europe, and the glory of the commanders-in-chief overshadowed the work of diplomats. Ghervas, however, argues that most important things happened after the guns fell silent. The silence gave the way for the formulation of a new world order that would make new peace even more lasting than the previous one. It is thus this "engineering" work that constitutes Ghervas’ main interest.
Stella Ghervas provides an intellectual history of the idea of peace and its growth in importance over time. Having realized the impossibility of "the perpetual peace", the protagonists of her book sought to imagine such a world order that would make it last for as long as possible while not endangering the sovereignty of the states. The formulation of the idea of peace, however, does not in itself guarantee its implementation: in each particular case peace must be institutionalized with the help of organizational and legislative measures.
According to the book, three main motives determined the nature of each new peace establishment: the fear of a continental empire, Zeitgeist, and complexes of new ideas about the organization of peace. Over time, as Ghervas demonstrates, the idea of a military problem-solving on the continent succumbed to the necessity to maintain peace at all costs. This result became possible thanks to the work of different generations of "engineers” of peace.