H.E. Ambassador Philip McDonagh Lectures on Common Peace and World Order

by Joshua Mauldin

CTI recently held its Annual Lecture on Global Concerns, which takes place each spring here at Luce Hall. The lecture series provides a public forum for genuine dialogue and mutual exchange. The lecturer this year was H.E. Ambassador Philip McDonagh, Permanent Representative for Ireland to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Responding to the lecture was Melissa Lane, Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University. 

Click here to listen to Ambassador McDonagh's lecture on the Fresh Thinking Podcast

Click here to listen to Professor Lane's response on the Fresh Thinking Podcast

Ambassador McDonagh’s lecture—titled ‘A Common Peace: An Ancient Greek Conception of World Order’—examined how philosophical resources from antiquity might enrich modern politics. Of central importance was the idea that a common peace—koine eirene in Greek—should be seen as the goal of politics, at the national as well as the international level. The possibility of a global peace is especially important to Ambassador McDonagh, who works to secure peace among nations through diplomacy. His lecture covered three moments in ancient history: the Roman vision exemplified by Augustus, the Greek vision exemplified by Pericles, and the Christian vision exemplified by Augustine. 

Ambassador McDonagh concluded the lecture: 

To build a democratic ‘common peace’, we need to understand what Thucydides sets out to do - to bring intellectual coherence to a potentially chaotic environment by defining the principle arguments in play and bringing these arguments into dialogue with one another. An exercise in historical understanding enables democratic deliberation....I hope that I have kept faith with Thucydides, who said all those years ago: 

‘It will be enough for me if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future…’ – Thucydides, I, 22

Professor Melissa Lane, who recently published a book on ancient Greek and Roman political ideas, provided an illuminating response to Ambassador McDonagh’s lecture, and raised the question whether the goal of common peace is one in which regime type matters. She asked, “Can there be a stable peace without justice and democracy?” Prof. Lane concluded her remarks: 


In conclusion, I cannot do justice to the depth of theological reflection in the final part of today’s lecture. But as a Jew, perhaps I can close with the ideal of shalom. As Michael Walzer has observed, ‘The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, derives from a root that indicates completion, wholeness, or perfection.’ As for Augustine, peace or shalom in its fullest sense is an eschatological or messianic hope, not something that can be realized in human society. And yet, the aspiration to that complete peace is constantly invoked in prayer and scripture. While full peace may be beyond our grasp, reflection on its full nature - especially when done with the erudition of our principal lecturer today - is central to the human story, from classical and Jewish-Christian antiquity to today.