“Power, properly used ...”

“Power cannot be ignored in diplomacy. Power, properly used, can be a stimulant to peace; it can help insure peace; it can serve as a guardian of peace. But when power becomes its own end, when power becomes the purpose, then we have lost our way.”
Sargent Shriver |Philadelphia, PA| October 4, 1974

Our Quote of the Week reminds us that political power can be effective in achieving peace, but can be a destructive force if accumulated for its own sake.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words while he was candidate for Vice President in the 1972 US Presidential election. Running on the George McGovern ticket, he laid out a blueprint for a new administration that would lead with morality and purpose, embarking on an international “quest for peace,” as the title of the speech indicates. He criticized the Nixon administration for its lack of diplomacy, escalation of military force, and fueling of violence throughout the world, most notably in Vietnam. And he described a vision for a government dedicated to peace, justice, and truth, stressing the importance of all three of these:

“When we speak of peace, we must speak also of justice. For peace is not only the absence of war. Peace must be more. We cannot, as Tacitus said, create a desert and call it peace. Peace must mean not only the absence of war among governments, but also the creation of social justice among peoples. Peace must mean mutual respect and harmonious interchange. Peace must mean removal of the causes which move men to war. Peace must mean furthering the dignity of man and the sanctity of life.”

“An Administration dedicated to peace will put a stop to […] deceit. For peace depends on trust and trust depends on truth.”

The world is a much different place than it was when Sargent Shriver spoke these words almost 50 years ago, but we can see his warnings and criticisms reflected in many of today’s international and domestic headlines. The threat of a military conflict in Eastern Europe, the spread of misinformation about everything from the US Presidential election to COVID-19, and the erosion of voting rights across the US are all stark reminders of the ways in which accumulating power for its own sake can wreak havoc in our society. From the perspective of 2022, it is extraordinary to think of a Presidential platform that would be based on peacebuilding such as the one that Sargent Shriver put forward. Let us commit to building a society where such a platform can be not only proposed but also implemented.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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