Conflict Transcendence as Driving Force in History

EDITORIAL, 19 Jul 2010

#121 | Johan Galtung

Speech delivered at the International Sociological Association – Gothenburg, Sweden, July 2010.

The mediation theory of TRANSCEND opens for five possibilities for simple conflicts and much more for more complex conflicts, as spelt out in A Theory of Conflict.  But they are hidden in history.

To transcend is to go beyond, into a new reality accommodating opposed theses, also such as the goals of actors.  At a trivial level this includes a glass veranda, accommodating the wish for an unimpeded view and the wish for protection against the hazards of nature.  Two reasonable, legitimate goals; both of them met with human ingenuity.[i]

We live in many such material, social and mental solutions but not trained in asking “of what conflict is this a solution?” How about the goals of states and regions, classes and nations, can conflicts be overcome without violence, from personal and social via inter-state to inter-regional?  The capacity for transcending the conflict is one condition, preferably before, but also after violence.

Let us take Spain and the civil war as one example.  When asking audiences in Spain “who won?” I draw a blank, which is a good answer.

The Franco-led fascist, fasces, position was social and national: social, los poderes fácticos,–landowners, military and the church– would still be in command and Spain would be una, grande, libre–one, great and free–all Spaniards; no Catalans, Basques, etc.

The Republic position was also social and national: democracy-republic, but increasingly supported only by USSR communism for arms, with an anarchism more genuinely Spanish articulated in Catalunya and Andalucia.  Major national divergences within one state were pressing.

The Franco-led opposition had a clearer image of the goal, the republicans had the legitimacy.  Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were seen more positively those days, depressed USA-UK less so.

The nationalists won militarily in 1939 and imposed their order, gradually diluted, till Franco and that order died November 1975.

As to class: what came was a democracy with a majority favoring neither the fascist, nor the communist-anarchist options, but a general Western European social-democracy-capitalism, with different profiles where emphasis is concerned, but within that general formula.

As to nation: what came was the compromise of 17 autonomies within a unitary state; like most compromises not meeting the goals.

The successor party to Franco’s Movimiento, Partido Popular is to the right on the Neither-Nor and the compromise, but somehow in them.

Generally there are five outcomes in bilateral conflict: one prevails, the other prevails, neither one nor the other, compromise, and Both-And.  Post-Franco was basically Neither-Nor.  The military victor had prevailed, but with an unsustainable project.  Nor did the republican option succeed.  What came after 40 years was an imitation of the rest of the West, distancing Spain from the losers of the Second World War and the Cold War, but also an internal dialectic in a Spain isolated from foreign influence by boycott and censorship.

The outcome was far from what the parties had in mind, and opens for a simple hypothesis: outcomes imposed by winners will generally be inferior to Neither-Nor, compromise or Both-And.  One reason is that the loser may also have valid points that are disregarded, like the social support built into the DDR structure, the economic development practice of Japan, the anti-smoking campaign of Nazi Germany. The winner may also be behind in the options of an unfolding history.

Look at democracy.  Two classes were pitted against each other: clerics-aristocrats, and then le tiers etat, the bourgeoisie without pedigree.  La grande revolución was structural power from high above vs.. direct revolt from more below.  Who won?  Arithmetics, counting, with an agonizingly slow expansion of the electorate still going on.

And the economy?  Neither Smith nor Marx.  Social-democracy-capitalism accommodated both; more than a compromise, but less than the fully transcending Both-And found in Japanese State-Capital and Capital-Labor cooperation.  Both Smith and Marx conceived of history in dualistic terms: for Smith age-old values and sentiments of mutual aid and solidarity vs. the open competitive market, and for Marx feudalist vs. capitalist vs. socialist modes of production articulated as the aristocrat vs. the bourgeois vs. the working classes.  But Smith and his followers left moral sentiments aside, betting on competitive capitalism, leading to one economic collapse after the other, to anomie and atomie, with no Both-And in sight.  And Marx only thought in terms of Dualism-Manichaeism-Armageddon, DMA, the Armageddon being the revolution, with the Russian revolution imitating the French down to small details 128 years later.  Marx missed Neither-Nor (local, green economies), compromise (social-democracy-capitalism) and Both-And (Japan), betting on working class-led socialism.

How can such bad theories pass unpunished?  Because Western historiography is as dominated by the DMA syndrome as the Westerners they reflect in their histories, and for that reason are not only weak on counterfactual history but see history as DMA-determined, like in their own thinking.  And, more importantly, they fail to see more inclusive theories of conflict outcomes, like the green, pink and yellow economies mentioned, challenging both Smith and Marx.  Thus, Japan and China, not being Western, are less under the spell of Smith-Marx dualism, and develop their own Both-And formulas, now about to capture the world–probably also ultimately the Smith strongholds USA-UK (in the USA strongly buoyed by Ayn Rand–as Greenspan testified).

Thus, history as the march from one winner to the next imposing their will is bad historiography; “the winner takes all” often being inadequate. The other three may prevail, and may move history forward.


[i] For a general theory of transcending transformations see the author’s Transcend & Transform, London: PLUTO 2003; Boulder CO: Paradigm 2003; in 25 languages.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Jul 2010.

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3 Responses to “Conflict Transcendence as Driving Force in History”

  1. Akifumi Fujita says:

    In my experiences of Transcend workshop in Japan, though not very many so far, the concept of conflict and that of dualism are very often confused. As is very clearly stated in this speech, conflict transcendence makes sense only when conflicts are there with reasonable and legitimate goals contradicting with each other. And it needs profound and deep insights into the reality to identify what the conflict itself is in concrete circumstances.I may be wrong, but in my understanding the division between violence and nonviolence is a kind of dualism, while the division between violence and peace is the most fundamental conflict, from which has arisen and realized the fruitful possibility of peace studies.I agree with Johan that to ask of what conflict this is a solution is very often more effective than to ask what is the conflict in this reality before us. For example, we have before us a large number of nuclear weapons. Without asking of what conflict this is a solution, we are apt to think that this is given. Little possibility of change there. But if we ask the question this way, we can put the reality in a historical perspective. Hence the possibility of conflict transcendence. Hot days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are approaching this year,too. Of what conflict is the nuclear weapon a solution? And who are the parties of the conflict? All the people in the world. Because once nuclear war happens, they will all suffer from the fatal consequences of the war.