Hope Valley is a small town in the coal-mining region of Alberta, Canada. In this town, ordinary people go out of their way to nurture the community. Children gift their favourite toys to the young ones in newcomer families. Little girls competing to play Mary in the Christmas pageant abandon their moment of glory to protect friendships. Adults open their homes for miners injured in a mudslide. A bride offers her banquet to famished neighbours who have lost their belongings in a flood.

The compassion of the Hope Valley residents is seen not only in calamities. It can be observed in many small things during daily life. A restaurateur always finds free hands willing to repair her kitchen. A nurse cancels her wedding to a banker in another city in order to serve the ailing. A bandit becomes a pastor. An heiress becomes a schoolteacher. An orphan becomes a son. It is a town where
jealousies, corruption ,and suspicions prevail like any other small town.

But the wise folks of Hope Valley believe that a habit of happily living together and understanding one another is better than squabbling for profit or ego. There is only one person in Hope Valley who enjoys fostering confrontation. He is rich, greedy and cunning. He is the mayor; and he knows how to capture power, even though his ethos is not the same as that of the people. The town folk build their community of care despite the mayor’s antics. They go on constructing the fabric of society and finally change his mind.

This fictional town in the Hallmark series When Calls the Heart has become popular in many parts of the world because, deep inside our hearts, we want to live in Hope Valley. We cherish kindness. We appreciate empathy. We long for togetherness.

In many regions of the world, north as well as south, towns and villages like Hope Valley exist. In thousands of such milieus, civility and kindness triumph over hatred and vanity. With the advent of technology, we have even created international hope communities.

Our spirit of humanity is especially kindled when a disaster takes place due to nature’s fury or human folly. Visuals of the elderly and children in distress pull at our heartstrings. The human capacity for compassion for victims of disasters in faraway places is truly remarkable.

It is natural that people primarily rush to the aid of victims in their vicinity. In an earthquake or a flood, many Samaritans risk their own lives to rescue stranded people. Communities donate food, clothes, and money to help the needy. Emergency mass kitchens pop up. Volunteers appear in the hundreds from nowhere. We see this happening in different parts of the world almost every day. Whether it is a train accident or a burst dam, there is always a reservoir of empathy.

When such a sentiment is extended to victims of calamities in other countries, where there is no personal investment, it is only because of the subconscious association we feel with humankind.

Much like Hope Valley, people around the world do not confine their human spirit to adversities. We like to love, respect and help despite our ego, jealousies and other frailties. We cry when death assaults our lives. We laugh when life wins. It is human nature to be considerate. But then, why do we glorify violence and accept the weapons of final destruction? It is because we humans have created states that tend to be malevolent. These states have convinced us to swallow the poison of nationalism and made us forget our humanity.

States brawl with each other for any and every reason they can invent. The Onion, an American satirical magazine, published a headline about the eve of the First World War: “Austria declares war on Serbia declares war on Germany declares war on France declares war on Turkey declares war on Russia declares war on Bulgaria declares war on Britain. Ottoman empire declares war on itself.”

If The Onion were to tell the story of the 2020s, it would publish the same headline with a different cast of players: “Russia declares war on the US declares war on North Korea declares war on Japan declares war on China declares war on India declares war on Pakistan declares war on Israel declares war on Iran declares war on Saudi Arabia declares war on Turkey declares war on Greece. Brazil, feeling left out, declares war on itself. Nations struggle to distinguish between allies and enemies. Switzerland leads fifty countries to proclaim neutrality. Rival alliances come together to confer on whether they should bomb neutral states, whose peaceful actions insult the glory of war, before they annihilate each other.”

When left to themselves, states articulate general will from Rousseau’s social contract: this represents the legitimate political community. Common interest must underpin general will. Those who control states look to expand their authority. If they try to coerce in the pursuit of power, it does not reflect general will. Neither does coercion serve common interest. Rousseau suggests that people can overthrow such rulers.

Beyond the boundaries of nation states, there is no legitimate political community. As there is no general will between countries, there is no common interest.

States do not hesitate to encroach on others when it is opportune for them. If each state tries to expand its sphere of influence or its territory, sooner or later, it is bound to confront and come in conflict with others. Some states in some periods may observe restraint, but the possibility of war does not disappear.

Immanuel Kant and others believed that the formation of a federation would create a social contract between states reflecting “common general will” underpinned by mutual interest. It was a pious hope. States have treated federations more as markets to bargain for their national interest than as political communities to find a common purpose. When they indeed discovered unity of purpose, they created a political community and eschewed wars, as in the European Union since the 1950s. Otherwise, they have pursued national interests without any bounds.

The so-called national interest is often a euphemism for the ruler’s ambition or ego and the so-called national glory is the manipulation of patriotism for the worship of violence. States ignore federations by pretending to honour a holy book or a rectangular standard, hiding their ulterior motive of profiteering and greed. The examples of this over the years are aplenty: Japan quit the League of Nations when it wanted to attack Manchuria; the US snubbed the UN when it wished to bomb Iraq, and so on.

Since a federation of states does not seem to be capable of ending wars, it is necessary to conceive of a global social contract for humankind where people can find a general will beyond national frontiers and voluntarily harness the common interest of our planet, the only known world in the universe inhabited by humans.

A World without War: The History, Politics and Resolution of Conflict

Excerpted with permission from A World without War: The History, Politics and Resolution of Conflict, Sundeep Waslekar, Harper Collins.