Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.34 MB)

Pacifying Leviathan: Back to basics in peace-building out of conflict

Download (2.34 MB)
posted on 2021-11-15, 13:27 authored by Williams, Jessie

This thesis focuses critically on contemporary theory and practice of peace-building where there has been conflict. The commonality of the resumption of violence after peace processes in many recent examples, suggests that both theory and practice have not worked as intended. The thesis explores insights that might improve the odds that governing institutions (or, more particularly, the people who work in them) can put aside violence. In the terms used in this thesis: how might Leviathan be pacified? Therefore, the thesis deals with basics evident in all recorded (and probably pre-historic) human experience. For the modern states of Western Europe and North America, pacifying Leviathan followed centuries of conflict (including two world wars), interspersed with governance reforms and constitutional adjustments. The process is ongoing, but by the middle of the 20th century “the liberal state” clearly emerged, with features that included constitutions, the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the market system. There appeared to be a widespread view after World War II that the liberal state apparatus’ essence could be written down in documents, transplanted into many different historical and cultural contexts and would work much as the model predicted i.e. was easily reproducible, perhaps infinitely, even in smaller and smaller versions. From 1945 to 2010, the numbers of states at the United Nations almost quadrupled (51 to 192). Member 193 (South Sudan) may emerge from decades of conflict in 2011. In all that state formation, the optimistic view was that the new documents and institutions would provide structures within which political and/or ethnic competitors/combatants would engage in non-violent political competition. In this thesis, “reverse-engineering” is the term given to this notion. Such optimism was severely dented by the experiences of many newly-independent states in the mid-late 20th century. As violence escalated in new and existing states all over the world after the Cold War ended (taken, for convenience, as 1990), reverse-engineering remained at the core of the formula for peace-building after conflict. As with the post-colonial period, liberal peace-building since 1990 have also been repeated failures to work as intended, including the resumption of conflict. The most fragile states have posed the hardest problems, not only for the suffering citizens but for the international community seeking how best to help.  With this in mind, and accepting that each state and society is unique, this thesis sets out building blocks for alternative approaches. It does not suggest there are simple answers in pacifying Leviathan, either generally or in relation to any particular example. If it is indeed possible in any place (e.g. Haiti) to reduce ongoing conflict, the argument is that these blocks should be amongst the foundations of theory to inform practice.  The core thesis is thus that the chances of pacifying Leviathan might be significantly improved if domestic and international actors: • Adopt a conflict transformation approach to guide theory and practice; • Come to terms with groupism – how/why humans bond into groups and the potential this poses for violence and peace; • Understand the importance of receptivity - the notion that critical masses of key actors should squarely face (often when they have become exhausted by) the consequences of violent competitiveness and seek alternatives; • Translate receptivity into learned constitutionalism – learning to govern by rules amongst sufficient actors; and • Develop international assistance guided by the above perspectives, and which, with the consent of the peoples concerned, find ways to stay appropriately engaged for the time needed to strengthen the factors that should pacify Leviathan.  The thesis does not focus on future strategies of conflict-reduction – such as economic development to give people stakes in the society, along with disarmament of combatants. Many other studies explore these. Here, the exploration is of the nature of human society, informed by history, examples, case studies and a sweep of cross-disciplinary analysis. Understanding why pacifying Leviathan is so hard is the basic first step, which forms the bulk of this thesis. Putting such understanding into practice involves many further steps. Important as these might be for current and future policy and practice in peace-building, their full development is beyond the scope of this thesis. Some suggestions are made, especially in the conclusion, but elaboration will have to await further work.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Ladley, Andrew; Wolf, Amanda