The Peace and Democracy-Building Continuum

Guy M. Burgess
Heidi Burgess

July, 2018

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This video adds the word "democracy" to peacebuilding and "stable peace," asserting that what we really need to be doing is pursuing "democratic peacebuilding," and "stable, democratic peace."  When Boulding published his book Stable Peace in 1978, it appeared as if the region of stable peace was expanding around the world.  Now it seems to be rapidly contracting.  We argue that reversing that trend is of utmost importance!

Full Transcript:

Slide 1. This is Guy Burgess. In this post I want to continue developing the Massively Parallel Peacebuilding idea that I introduced in an earlier post as the major focus of the second part of the Conflict Frontiers Seminar series. 

Slide 2. More specifically, in this post I want to address an obvious question about the relationship between peacebuilding and democracy. In the earlier post, we talked a lot about the importance of defending the pursuit of the democratic ideal and preventing society from sliding into autocracy, anocracy, or war. 

Massively Parallel Peacebuilding Name / Logo
See Syllabus for other MPP posts.
See full MPP Action List.

Slide 3. To do this, a first key step is to reclaim the word "peace." My sort of cute line is that "peace is too important to be left to hippies." To a sad, but real degree, the pursuit of peace is often associated with "peaceniks" and a naïve, "Kumbaya approach" to what is arguably the most critically-important problem facing human society. Our project is an attempt to disprove that stereotype with a realistic effort to grapple with the extraordinarily difficult challenges we face. Think for a minute about the plight of people who live in societies that are not at peace. 

Slide 4. Take Syria for example.  I'm still haunted by an article that I read very early on in the Syrian Civil War from a woman who was arranging playgroups for her kids and saw her whole world disintegrate around her. And that was four years ago. Think about how bad things have gotten and how much destruction has taken place since then. 

Frontiers MOOS Seminar
Home | Syllabus / Other Posts
This Seminar is part of the...

Find out more..

Slide 5. Or, take the problem of autocracy. This image illustrates more clearly than anything else I've seen the terrible costs of living under an autocratic regime. This is taken from the International Space Station at night and you see South Korea in the lower right corner of the image, and China in the upper left corner. The area in the middle with no lights on at night is North Korea. That tells you a lot about just how bad autocracy can get. 

Slide 6. And, then there's anocracy and the case of Venezuela. We had a very good student working for us for a number of years ago from Venezuela. The heartbreaking stories she told about the total collapse of her country are perhaps illustrated with this image of a store that has nothing on its shelves. Venezuela has gotten to the point where it is unable to provide the most basic necessities of life – not even toilet paper! 

Slide 7. The term "peacebuilding" comes out of the Agenda for Peace, a document produced by the United Nations and Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. It made a distinction between three critical terms. 

Slide 8. The first was "peacemaking," the process of negotiating a cease-fire and end of active, violent hostilities as this article describes, with reference to the Colombian Civil War.

Slide 9. The second phase is "peacekeeping" where often blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers come in and enforce a cease-fire agreement. 

Slide 10. The next phase and the far more difficult challenge is "peacebuilding," which is the continuing process of pushing societies away from war, autocracy, and anocracy and toward the democratic ideal of wise and equitable governance with the protection of human rights. The Alliance for Peacebuilding has a webpage with lots of definitions that gives you a more complete sense of what people are thinking about when they use the term "peacebuilding." 

Slide 11. It's important to realize that there are two big components of peacebuilding. One is the process of reconciling past conflicts and, especially, the unrightable wrongs that typically characterize such conflicts. This requires an ability to balance the often competing goals of peace (the need to end the violence), justice (the need to hold people accountable for their crimes), truth (they need to have an agreed-upon common history of events), and mercy and forgiveness for folks who were caught up in the conflict's escalation dynamics and committed terrible crimes.Peacebuilding also requires a prospective future vision of a society that everyone (or, at least, most everyone) finds sufficiently attractive to enthusiastically pursue (and to leave some of the crimes of the past behind). 

Slide 12. We also made a distinction in some of our earlier posts between peacebuilding and peace cultivating. The term "building" implies something like a centrally-engineered plan which is kind of a "complicated" approach to problem-solving going back to the distinction between complicated and complex approaches that we talked about in the Complexity Unit of the Frontiers Seminar.  Complicated approaches imply that somebody has a plan and that somebody is directing efforts to implement the plan. In truth, what we are talking about is much closer to "peace cultivating" where you're trying to support the natural process of social learning with the goal of helping society discover its own solutions to the conflict problem--a complexity-based approach.

Slide 13. The goal of all of this is something very close to what Kenneth Boulding called "stable peace." In this context, we would add the word "democratic," as in "stable, democratic peace" in which a society is able to wisely and equitably govern itself (our idea) and in which the possibility of large-scale violent conflict is so remote that it doesn't really enter into anyone's calculations. (This second clause is Boulding's definition of "stable peace."  That's really what peace is. It's not the end of or the resolution of conflict. Rather, it is the constructive, nonviolent handling of conflict. 

Slide 14. Another way to think about this is what I call "inverted Clausewitz." Clausewitz, as you may remember, was the famous Prussian general who was widely quoted as describing "war as the continuation of diplomacy by other means" (or you could say "the resolution of disputes by violent means"). You can define peace by flipping Clausewitz around. Peace is the continuation of war (that is violent dispute resolution) by other (non-violent) means. You still have conflicts, you just don't approach them violently.

Slide 15. Boulding had a continuum from stable war (where war was the only dispute mechanism people knew) to stable peace where nobody thought there was a significant possibility of war.  In the middle, you have unstable war and unstable peace. So it's a continuum from a war-torn society to a violence-limited society. In this context, peacemaking is something you do at the stable and unstable war end of the continuum.  As you move further along the continuum toward the peace side, you reach the peacekeeping and then peacebuilding stage. In this context, peacebuilding is the process of coming as close to an ideal democracy and "stable, dempocratic peace" as possible.

Slide 16. Boulding observed, when he wrote this in 1978, that society seemed to be on a march toward ever-greater regions of stable peace. 

Slide 17. He talked about stable peace first emerging in Scandinavia where countries used to commonly fight one another until they decided to stop. Following World War II, it expanded to include western Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia, and other countries around the Pacific Rim. Since then, the fall of the Soviet Union and other developments expanded the region to include Russia, China, and lots of other countries.

Slide 18. Unfortunately, it seems like weare on the verge of backsliding, away from stable peace and the pursuit of a more ideal democracy back toward something that is far less stable and far more dangerous. 

Slide 19. You are seeing this in the United States, Western Europe, and, to different degree, in Russia and China. Those of us who thought that democracy was challenged but reasonably healthy are discovering that that is not the case.  We urgently have to figure out what's going wrong and fix it -- before we can get back on the track of making democracy what it could be and again pursuing "democratic stable peace."

Slide 20. There is also the Fragile States Index, which clearly shows that many parts of the world are in really tough shape (especially central Africa and the Middle East). It also highlights how far the United States and much Western Europe are from the peaceful end of the index.

Slide 21. One final but very important point: I have been making a big deal about how the pursuit of democracy is, in a very real sense, synonymous with the pursuit of peace.  In saying this, I must acknowledge that, while democracies have within and between themselves been pretty peaceful since World War II, they (and especially the United States) have also been involved in a lot of violence in other parts of the world – violence for which they are at least partly responsbile. We are a long way from having the ideal democracy that we want. And, as we work to fix the many problems with democracy, we have to address how democracy contributes to violence in other parts of the world.

Slide 22. The bottom line is that the goal of Massively Parallel Peacebuilding is to push things toward the stable peace end of the continuum by making democracy and peace as broadly attractive and as workable as possible. However, stable democracy isn't proving very workable at the moment and lots of people have good reasons for questioning whether this is a viable governance model. So, this is a big challenge, but it's one that we've got to find some way to meet is we are to avoid widespread violence, anocracy, and autocracy.

Referenced Resources:

Slide 7: Source:; 

Slide 8: Source:

Slide 13:  Stable Peace by Kenneth Boulding.

Slides 20 and 21:  Fragile States Index:

Photo Credits:

Slide 3: Peace Bus – Source:; By: Cristian Pozzessere; Permission: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Slide 4:Bombed Out Cars Aleppo – Source:; By: Scott Bobb; Permission: Public Domain

Slide 5: Kim Il Sung Square – Source: Permission:  CC0 Public Domain; Korea from Space:; Satellite imagery from NASA

Slide 7: Source:;  United Nations Flag – Source: Permission: Public Domain

Slide 8: Source:

Sldie 9: Mongolian UN Peacekeepers – Source: By:U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor Mohr; Permission: Public Domain

Slide 10: Source:

Slide 12: Construction. Source:; Permission: CC0 Public Domain.   Gardening. Source:; By Klest (Own work); Permission: Public domain

Slide 13:  Sources: Stable Peace by Kenneth Boulding.

Slide 14:  Clausewitz – Source:; Permission: Public Domain

Slide 17 and 19:  World Map – Source: By: ;Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Slides 20 and 21:  Source: