Tag Archives: Peace

The Peace System – As a Self-referential Communication System



Ever since Abbé Saint-Pierre wrote his magisterial Projet d’une Paix Perpétuelle, published in the aftermath of the Utrecht Peace in 1713, it has been questioned whether the “system of peace” could tackle the “system of war”. Earlier, “times of war” followed “times of peace” or vice versa. Under the umbrella of a pontifical order, the organisation of peace could manage to cool the inner dynamics of armed conflicts though the pope was definitely sometimes part of heated campaigns and war endeavours, as at the time when he initiated the first crusade in 1095. During the so-called Italian Wars, from 1494 to 1559, the combined dynamics of state organised campaigns were loaded with new heavy weapons as guns and soon after specialised warships; defensive strategies of fortifications followed by the religious conflicts of the Reformation did indeed rupture whatever could still be established as a pontifical peace (Porter 1994; Autrand 1998). The last such half-hearted peace endeavour was the Trento Council in the middle of the 16th century. Albeit the “Landesfrieden” in 1555 established a peace between Catholic and Protestant princes inside the Roman Empire of the Holy German Nation, an ongoing explosive conflict began in France in 1561 between Catholics and Huguenots only to be followed by the rebellion of Dutch provinces against the rule of Spanish Philip II in 1566.

From that moment a still stronger whirl of war increased the call for state organisation and its justification principle, the “necessities” entailed by a “raison d’État”, only to be followed by an increased competition among militarily organised states that copied each other’s innovations with a still higher speed. The so-called Thirty Years War took its departure in that context with the Bohemian rebellion, the “defenestration”, against Austrian rule in 1618; it faded of exhaustion in the years before the famous Treatises of Münster and Osnabrück that concluded the Westphalian Peace in 1648. Still, the French-Spanish Peace of the Pyrenees and the Danish-Swedish Peace had to follow in 1659.

After a hundred years of war, the system of war won an internal self-reference and was established as a functional system that was ungovernable for any other system outside itself. Its means were too strong, its dynamics too necessary and the powers that did not follow its imperatives were annihilated such as Burgundy in the 16th century, Denmark-Norway nearby in 1659 and Poland at the end of the 18th century. When Carl von Clausewitz, in the aftermath of the Napoleon Wars, was able to write that “war is the continuation of politics with other means” (Clausewitz 1832/1952: 888), it was because even absolute wars were in need of real supplies, and logistics could be governed. The still more complex and professional military organisation system could be controlled and governed; but not the war system.

The struggle between control and ungovernable dynamics has always been tested as one of finance. Seemingly politics could control war finance when the political legitimacy of still higher taxes disappeared, and loans and credits were stopped; however, this turned out not to be the case. Wars demand extremely increasing supplies of finance, and they have always exceeded any limitations whatsoever. The invention of not only new taxes but especially new credit systems far beyond imagination turned out to be part of the competition, symmetric or asymmetric, of wars. Every major war was decided less by the so-called decisive battles and more by the exhaustion of resources and their financial sinews.

What happened to the peace system? If the war system had its own hard-hitting dynamics, what about the dynamics of the peace system? Could any dynamics and self-referential codes of communication be identified in what was once called a peace system? Or did the peace system disappear after 1648 or 1713 as anything worth mentioning as a “system”? What are the semantics, he codes and resources to be found in such a system? And which potentialities could be detected inherent to a peace system (Bély 1993)?

This does indeed question: What precisely does “system” mean? What advantages, if any, could such a conception offer to a description of peace potentialities?

I will begin with a short outline of some frames offered by recent system theory. Although several system theories have been presented since Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Gottfried Leibniz and Abbé Saint-Pierre presented the first system theories – and especially has been established with great endeavours from German immigrants in America after the 1930s – the only system theory I find just remotely adequate to answer these questions is German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s. He did not himself undertake the task of writing anything like “Der Frieden des Gesellschaft” comparable to his many magisterial books about Das Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft (1988), Der Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft (1990), Das Recht der Gesellschaft (1993; Law as Social System 2004), Die Kunst der Gesellschaft (1995; Art as Social System 2000) Die Politik der Gesellschaft (2000), Die Religion der Gesellschaft (2000; A Systems Theory of Religion 2013) Das Erziehung der Gesellschaft (2002), Die Moral der Gesellschaft (2008) and not even his greatest achievement Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1-2 (1997; Theory of Society 1-2, 2013). As a German, born in 1927, he did not feel that he himself was sufficiently at a distance to write a “Der Krieg der Gesellschaft” nor a similar book on peace, on it functions, its communication codes, semantics and self-descriptions, its evolutions, organisations, structural couplings, sense and whatever else such a theory would imply. Though, comparable to a so-called “contingency formula” of for example “justice”, he several times wrote about the importance of a contingency formula of war/peace indicating when a war or a peace begins and ends. Gertrud Brücher wrote Frieden as Form (2002) and later Gewaltspiralen (2011) to compensate this lack in the theory of self-referential systems; but she did not focus on the form of communication and the codes of diplomatic communication according to the historical evolutions of diplomatic self-descriptions.

Yet, Luhmann wrote an important booklet on Trust (Vertrauen, 1968). From this he embarked into studies of risk and mistrust. Diplomacy and peace establishment is constituted by trust in order to cope with mistrust, and we may say that trust re-enters into mistrust, interprets mistrust and interprets war and conflict with peace, negotiations and contracts. Whereas Luhmann in his major general theory of Social Systems (1984) writes about conflict as the continuation of communication but in other means, he does not only paraphrase Clausewitz’ “war is the continuation of politics, but in other means” he also describes how conflicts could be displaced into law and contracts. To Luhmann the evolution of law and contracts was his answer to the solutions necessary to replace war with peaceful if not conflict free and dissent free means.

No other system theory is not even close to the level of theoretical and historical elaboration offered by Luhmann’s theory of self-referential communication systems. In the first section, I shortly introduce some of the basic conceptions of the theory useful for a construction of a system theory of peace (I). In the second section, I mark some of the basic self-references and use communication codes of diplomacy as an example (II). In the third and concluding section, I indicate what diplomatic communication codes mean in the actual modern world.


I. Medium, code, function and system: Giving sense to peace


Niklas Luhmann was not the only one to warn against identifying society with a nation-state, its territory, its population, its language and its narration of a national history. Émile Durkheim, Norbert Elias, Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens and, more recently, Slavoj Zizek have done the same, and before them, perhaps more than any, Karl Marx. The problem is to detect exactly what the problem is. Using Gaston Bachelard’s famous concept, Luhmann describes the distorted identification as an “obstacle épistemologique”. The strive to concretise by identifying society with a certain spot to be circumscribed as the green, yellow or blue surface on a map, repeated over and over in schools for the past two hundred years, dissolves the possibilities to observe exactly what is the object in question. In fact, several obstacles are layered into each other.

Another obstacle is to conceptualise society as if it could be adequately observed as a sum of individuals or eventually as more than the sum of a mass of individuals, as if the little word “more” is adequate to answer questions about the dynamics of the mass. On the contrary, a Dutch society is not more flat than a Swiss, and an American society is not discovered to be heavier than a Japanese even if statistics show that Americans have another bodily weight than Japanese citizens.

Rather, “society” is a concept used in history in order to establish a communication with certain concerns. Above all, “society” is a medium of the communication that takes form in society itself, i.e. in the object in question. Hence the failure or obstacle is to turn immediately to the object rather than to constitute the conceptualisation with the concept of communication. Society is about communication. Society has the form communication offers, and it is very possible that the course of history has led society to communicate about territories, population statistics and grammatically well-defined languages. However, communication has led in all different kinds of directions. The spatial reference of communication has throughout history also and perhaps mainly been occupied with water, with rivers, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Chinese Sea, but also with marital alliances and links between princes, princesses, uncles, aunts and parents. Even more to the point, the post-Jewish monotheist theologies developed conceptions about a trans-territorial and transcendent spirit of interpretation, whether the Umma or the Holy Spirit enabled synchronisation of communication across huge distances. More than anything, this re-established a conception of society after the dissolution of the Roman societas civilis. Society was constituted as a body of differentiated societal orders and estates (Luhmann 1980). Such a system of orders – to speak with Bodin (1583/1961: 562, 1056) – could use historical records of hereditary privileges in order to structure its own ordered hierarchy and even later on call it national history in order to exclude incomers.

Accordingly Luhmann defines society as a communication system and not a society of individuals, but what is communication? Communication cannot proceed without reference to individuals or space; but above all communication must be able to refer to communication itself and leave individuals, space, organic or mechanical systems outside in the environment of a communication system. Communication is not able to communicate about everything at the same time. Complexities have to be reduced if social communication about any matter should give any actual sense. In a social dimension, communication has to reduce complexities in order to establish communication about any substantial matter in any temporal delimited sense. When sense and nonsense is defined in communication, it is because communication can establish distinctions between left out external complexities and internal reduced complexities handled inside communication. Communication operates with distinctions. But these distinctions are asymmetric; they observe communication from the side of the internal operations of communication, not from the external overly complex side of communication. Thus, the distinction operated in communication can be designated in the following way (Figure 1) just as Niklas Luhmann does when he follows George Spencer Brown’s logical designation technique (Baecker 1999; 2005).


Figure 1. The form of distinction










More advanced communication theories usually go back to a tripartition of communication in order not to reduce communication to a transfer of information or transfer of intention – again two epistemological obstacles well-known to communication analyses. Since Charles Sander Pierce and Karl Bühler, several proposals have designated such tripartitions. Luhmann distinguishes between information, message and understanding. Full communication operates with a temporal dimension of ongoing understanding of information as a substantial dimension in the form of the social dimension of messages. This tripartion could be indicated as in Figure 2.



Figure 2. The form of communication











Thus, understanding is, in fact, only possible if communication can operate with its own understanding of whatever is accounted for as information. Information might appear as if it handles some observation of an outside world, but information only makes sense if operated by an ongoing communication interpreting information as if changing information is the difference that makes a difference to the understanding itself. Such operations are possible because messages take form as all kinds of semantics some of which are coded in binary ways as for example justùunjust peaceùwar or trueùfalse. The operation of such binary codes allows for a duplication of the form of codes, hence the distinction can be handled in a way that in itself is justùunjust; this duplication can be established and in the course of history even monopolised by a legal system that has monopolised communication about the code justùunjust in such a way that it can claim to communicate about it in a just way. Hence Luhmann describes how communication re-enters into itself in a form of self-reference separated from other forms, as law communication is differentiated from political communication, aesthetic communication or communication about war. With a reconstruction proposed by Dirk Baecker this could take a form as sketched in figure 3.


Figure 3. The differentiated form of communication separated from other forms



















Communication =




























The same construction of re-entered communication can be observed in cases of the codes of war and peace. And communication of war could even re-enter into – what Luhmann terms a “structural coupling” of law communication – the communication war has on war, this might happen with the so-called jus in bello and its codes of conduct.

However, operations of war were originally coded in terms belonging to the peace side, such as honour, justice, sacral virtues etc. The tactical codes of war as a form of interchanges about annihilation of force were in operation and can be traced in Roman or Greek warfare. However, war communication had not fully managed to communicate about tactics, strategy and operations; it only did so in the self-referential hard-hitting form that professionalised itself according to its own codes since the Thirty Years War. Ever since Cicero’s Republic and Augustin’s The City of God (book 19, chap. 12), the code peaceùwar was communicated as if it was self-evident that peace was understood as being the side from which the observation of the code was undertaken. This might still apply to systems of legal communication or political communication; however, in war communication the opposite distinction replaced it at latest with the Thirty Years War and, accordingly, Clausewitz could write his masterpiece as if the code peaceùwar was replaced by one of warùpeace as if war could strive towards absolute war without moderation of realities. All functional systems communicate about themselves as if they can neglect the moderations imposed by their environments; this is of course an illusion but, indeed, a very real illusion filled with consequences when wars go on and are planned as if their opponents have no plans of destroying those plans and accordingly planned without thought for constraints to the gravitation centres of moral, sorrow, public opinion, finance and credit.

Here the question is: What happens with the code of peaceùwar observed from the peace loving side?


II. Diplomatic communication about peace


The semantics and codes of peace communication can be observed in diplomatic communication. This entrance to the analysis of peace systems is obvious due to the fact that diplomacy throughout history has been extremely concerned with communication in every obvious way. The role of diplomatic communication has been described according to the communication form that wars begin and stop when diplomacy stops respectively begins.

In his penetrating book A History of Diplomacy, respected British historian Jeremy Black describe three functions typical of modern diplomacy as it emerged since the 17th century: Information gathering, representation, and negotiation (Black 2010: 12, 73ff). Other functions such as tribute and vassalage can also be observed, for instance in the Osman Empire, in Russian traditions, Popal diplomacy and in Chinese Ming or Manchu traditions. If anything was the result of the Westphalian peace system, it would probably appear to be a certain shift in diplomatic communication, a transformation that did not occur during the negotiations in Osnabrück and Münster, but rather in the interpretations that stabilised some of the codes of communication that ex post were traced back to 1648, and even better, they could also be traced back to the Landesfrieden in 1555 or the Italian and especially Venetian republican interaction system of diplomacy. Under Louis XIV, French semantics conditioned a diplomatic communication structurally established and coupled to a bureaucratic organisation system. Diplomats travelled to other monarchies instructed with codified dispatches as if they were commissioned as commissaries, later called intendants or prefects. They should inform about who, how and what (Harste 2013; King 1948; Bely 1990; they should negotiate for and represent their absent monarch This was no evident commission given the fact that the telegraph, not to say telephone, internet or even a regular postal service was well established. Black describes the interdependency of those functions as if they were held together by the communication form figured above. Hence I will re-describe diplomatic communication as in Figure 4.



Figure 4. The form of diplomatic communication










The representation form enables the temporal dimension of ongoing communication. Representation is about a lot of often extremely costly rituals establishing what communication theory normally calls phatic communication: keep in touch, especially when the presence of political decision-makers (princes, ministers, generals) is quite absent.

The communication established among diplomats emerged as a form structurally coupled to the organisation system of foreign ministries. The French foreign ministry was probably the first ministry to departmentalise itself into resorts, simply because foreign affairs have many sides. In other states, the departmentalisation into resorts often followed linguistic skills, but in Paris and among diplomats the language was French anyway, especially after the transition with Versailles, Colbert and Louis XIV 1660-1680. Organisation systems can be observed with system theory as communication systems specialised in decisions are always in the temporal form of decisions about decisions (Luhmann 2000). Furthermore, organisation systems do include members and offer them positions as responsible persons in hierarchies according to a stratified ordered society; responsibility is communicated as a form that can be delegated and, in extreme cases, decentralised by sending persons far away from the present organisation to re-present positions. This construction was established by the church organisation of a body of monks, coordinated and synchronised inside the communication form of a Holy Spirit. During the 17th century, this theologically interpreted corpus spiritus was replaced by a secular form of an esprit de corps that permitted delegates to interpret their commissions according to the same codes present at the organisational and political centre, for instance in the councils and the court in Versailles.

Thus, as a whole, war communication took place as a certain self-codifying form; but it was structurally coupled to the war system, inside it but also striving for control of war, at least from a distant position, organisation systems did increase their decision-making communication and their organisational complexities; then again, inside organisational systems, diplomatic communication took place in a form oscillating between internal and external positions. Diplomatic communication could very seldom offer anything like a securitisation of a link between internal decision-making operations and external negotiations. Stretching the figures of form analyses to their outmost possibilities, the form of classic early modern diplomatic communication could be sketched somewhat sophisticated as in Figure 5.


Figure 5. The form of diplomatic communication structurally coupled to war communication and organisation systems












organisational decision-making



































Of course there was a paradox inherent to classic diplomatic communication: Displaced and departed negotiators could only negotiate as if they were still to be trusted as representatives, as if they did not have their own interests and as if they somehow were online with the spirit of decision-making present at the organisational centre. Therefore, cities emerged as a medium of credibility where entrusted representatives could inform themselves and at the same time interpret and understand which decisions their far away organisational centre, who financed their costly commission, would favour. Seemingly absurd forms of communication in diplomatic communication offers far less non-sense to the careful symbolisation of respect, politeness and forms of listening inherent in diplomatic communication; a famous example is offered by Rousseau:


The context of what Kant had in mind was provided by Rousseau who, in his somewhat ironical commentary to Abbé Saint-Pierre in Extrait du Projet de paix perpétuelle, wrote about the common sense of diplomatic deliberations that


”From time to time there are convoked in Europe certain general assemblies called Congresses, to which deputies from every State repair solemnly, to return in the same way; where men assemble to say nothing; where all the affairs of Europe are overhauled in detail; where men lay their heads together to deliberate whether the table they sit at shall be square or round; whether the hall shall have six doors or five; whether one plenipotentiary shall sit with his face or his back to the window, whether another shall come two inches further, or less far, into the room on a visit of ceremony: in fine, on a thousand questions of equal importance which have been discussed without any settlement for the last three centuries and are assuredly very fit to engross the statesmen of our own. It is possible that the members of one of these assemblies may, once in a way, be blessed with common sense. It is even not impossible that they may have a sincere desire for the general good. For reasons to be assigned shortly, it is further conceivable that after smoothing away a thousand difficulties, they will receive orders from their sovereigns to sign the Constitution of the Federation of Europe.” (Rousseau 1761/1971: 340)


No doubt, Rousseau himself behaved as a careless communicator with disrespect of everything and everyone. Yet, the main formula for respect and carefully coded communication is found in Le Callières Comment negocier avec les princes from 1716.

The costs covered by those who commissioned the delegate was in itself a symbol of trust; high costs signified the standing of the negotiator at the same time as the centre sending the entrusted diplomat could risk that they invested to much in the symbols. Thus, fixed embassies are a relatively new phenomenon, especially outside Paris, since Paris was, so to say, as a city the centre of negotiation, information and representation. The central position is revealed by the fact that the absolutist Danish king found his foreign minister, Johan Bernstorff, in Paris. He was a Hanoverian diplomat, who was probably, even for a while, a close friend or even the lover of Madame Pompadour; his nephew and two sons later also became foreign ministers, one of them first in Denmark and later in Prussia.

The risky oscillation of diplomatic communication could be short cut with congresses among princes, dukes and others with similar standings. This bracketed the organisation system and even the functional system of war. The mythical position of such meetings is still absolute in the mass media. In reality, diplomats always made the hard work in negotiations, information, argumentation, deliberation among possibilities etc. in such a way that the decisions made were embedded in form of communication responsible to all kinds of accounting. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had a background as a diplomat in Venice, was sceptical of the possibility for self-referential peace systems to be something that could match war systems. He revised Saint-Pierre’s project about the possibilities of a peace system and his description of classic diplomatic communication signifies the form of meaning he accounts for when describing diplomatic communication.



III. Conclusion


The legacy of classic diplomacy seems obsolete and absurdly embedded in l’ancien regime, but it is not. Rather it was truly an early modern way of communication in a modern functionally differentiated society in which status, at that time, was important, but the point was to communicate across lines of divisions. Divisions took place between different functional systems, different status layers, across borders, cultures and languages (even if the main post-Latin language was French). Already Hugo Grotius displayed how rules and normative orders are possible across confessional divisions (Grotius 1625/1999).

A very important example may give a hint of why communication constituted by codes of honour and respect is not obsolete. When George W. Bush’s diplomacy in 2002 – 2003 should convince the world public and Saddam Hussein that Iraq had delivered on the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the classic (French) diplomatic code of communication said that Hussein, as an Arab clan leader, in no way could admit that he had a less threatening weapon arsenal than he had claimed in his military diplomacy of threats towards Iraq’s most important enemy, Iran. In fact, earlier, USA strongly supported Iraq in its deterrence policy against Iran; materials used in weapons of mass destruction were sold to Iraq in order to build up such deterrence. An Arab leader had to sustain his glory and be feared by his opponents. This is not a substantial question of facts and materials, but an unavoidable and indispensable symbolic fact. This code of honour was far more important in the 6,000-year-old Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultural context than life and death. In cultures based on honour, the identity of persons and positions is constituted beyond life and death into eternity.

This is well-known to informed diplomacy. Governments that do not recognize such cultural foundations for diplomatic communication will be unable to establish peace communication. Peace systems are not constituted only by one actor or one state. Peace systems are built in co-operation with a system that tolerates differences in actors including differences of their communication form and how they communicate about responsibility and honour. Instrumental responsibility of materials (WMDs) is ontologically secondary to the primary code of deontological communication, which Western diplomats should have known. The result of this neglect was a war that has cost at least 120,000 lives plus an extra one million lives; thousands of US soldiers have been killed and even more continue to commit suicide because of such communication failures. The financial system of the world lost its stability and USA its position as a monolithic superpower.  

A reflexivity of opposed temporal orders is established by such codes. It is possible to proceed into the future with Immanuel Kant’s theory of post-national con-federal networks and his theory of a self-organisation among such systems; at the same time, it is possible, historically, to trace the constitutionalist potentialities detected by Kant back to the legal and organisational means invented and constitutionalised during the pontifical reconstruction of canon law since the 12th century (Thornhill 2008; 2011; Brunkhorst 2012). The European Integration re-constitutionalised the first sufficiently self-referential peace system (Harste 2009). This system does not proceed without risks; it is especially risk differentiated by incoherent system dynamics that unfold their internal temporal structures in unbalanced ways; rather than having a well constitutionalised separation of powers, more than anything the capitalist logics used in its beginnings and, in combination, the intellectual deficit – not any so-called “democratic deficit” – among political elites and mass media has distorted the risk structure of a European peace system. An admittedly risky further conclusion can describe some of the risk structures inherent in a modern future world society. The lack of a political legitimacy of the war induced debt structure of US as a falling star, – or a falling 50 stars – is a political risk outside imagination. At the same time, Chinese diplomacy will induce a more vassalage based peace system not constitutionalised by law and justice but by a far stronger state legacy than the absurdly incoherent Pax Americana. Kant outlined the possibilities of a convergent system among great powers. This is what Europe could hope for, the risk, however, is that a US population, still reluctant to pay taxes after the 1776 – 1783 War of Independence, will be unable to accept China as a main creditor and step into a still more neo-fascist desperate strife for claims of a worldly rule of the American Way of Life.




Abbé Saint-Pierre (1713/1981). Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe I-III, Paris: Garnier Frères.

Autrand, Françoise (1998). ‘Les artisans de paix face a l’État. La diplomatie pontificale’, i P. Contamine (dir.). Guerre et concurrence entre les États européens du XIVe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: PUF.

Baecker, Dirk (1999). Problems of Form, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Baecker, Dirk (2005). Formen und Formen der Kommunikation, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Bély, Lucien (1993). ‘Les trois paradoxes du congrès d’Utrecht’, i Pierre Chaunu (red.), Les fondements de la paix. Des origines au début du XVIIIe siècle, Paris: PUF.

Bély, Lucien (1990). Éspions et ambassadeurs au temps de Louis XIV, Paris: Fayard.

Black, Jeremy (2010). A History of Diplomacy, London: Reaktion.

Bodin, Jean (1583/1961). Les six livres de la république, Aalen: Scientia.

Brunkhorst, Hauke (2012). ‘The co-evolution of cosmopolitan and national statehood – Preliminary theoretical considerations on the historical evolution of constitutionalism’, in Cooperation and Conflict, June 2012, Vol. 47: 176-199.

Brücher, Gertrud (2002). Frieden als Form. Zwischen Säkularisierung und Fundamentalismus, Opladen: Leske & Budrich.

Brücher, Gertrud (2011). Gewaltspiralen. Zur Theorie der Eskalation, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Calières, François de (1716/2006). L’art de négocier sous Louis XIV, Paris: Calligram.

Clausewitz, Carl von (1832/1952). Vom Kriege, Bonn: Dümmler.

Grotius, Hugo (1625/1999). Le droit de la guerre et de la paix, Paris: PUF.

Harste, Gorm (2009). ‘Kant’s Theory of European Integration’, Jahrbuch für Recht und Ethik, Band 17: 53-84.

Harste, Gorm (2011). ’Fear as a medium of communication in asymmetric forms of warfare’ i Distinktion, Vol.12, Issue 2: 193-213.

Harste, Gorm (2013a). ‘The improbable European state. Its ideals observed with social systems theory’ i Robert Egnell, Peter Halden (eds.). New Agendas in Statebuilding, London: Routledge.

Harste, Gorm (2013b) ‘The Big, Large and Huge Case of State-Building – Studying Structural Couplings at the Macro Level‘ in Alberto Febbrajo, Gorm Harste (eds.). Law and Intersystemic Communication: Understanding ”structural coupling, London: Ashgate.

King, James (1948/1972). Science and rationalism in the government of Louis XIV, New York: Octogon Press.

Luhmann, Niklas (1968). Vertrauen, Stuttgart: Enke Verlag (Engl in Power and Trust, 1979).

Luhmann, Niklas (1980). ‘Interaktion in den Oberschichten’, i Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik 1, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Luhmann, Niklas (1984). Soziale Systeme, Frankfurt a.M. (Engl. transl. Social Systems, 1995).

Luhmann, Niklas (1997). Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft Band 1-2, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Luhmann, Niklas (2000). Organisation und Entscheidung, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1761/1971). ‘Extrait du projet de paix perpétuelle’, i Oevres Complètes T. 2, Paris: Seuil.

Thornhill, Chris (2008). ‘Towards a historical sociology of constitutional legitimacy’, Theory and Society 37 : 161-197.

Thornhill, Chris (2011). A Sociology of Constitutions. Constitutions and State Legitimacy in Historical-Sociological Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Imagine A Collective Landscape



The 150th year anniversary of Sir R.F. Burton and the Speke East Africa expeditions’ (1857-59) discovery of the Tanganyika and Victoria lakes has been celebrated in 2008 (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1 – LakesVitctoria and Tanganika discovered by Burton and Speke 1858 – Stamp
(Source: http:/Burtoniana.org)

This event is conceptually connected to both the Ólafur Elíasson’s (2008) The New York City Waterfalls [2] art project and the Yõko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower (2007) art project in Iceland (Fig. 2) .


Fig. 2 – The New York City Waterfalls, Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008

The link is made by the Iceland on the brain concept elaborated by Sir R.F. Burton in Ultima Thule; or, a summer in Iceland (1875; preface) [3].

Landscape nostalgia is at the roots of both Sir R.F. Burton’s and Ólafur Elíasson’s works.

Cultural Landscape

Landscapes treasure past, frame current and affect future environmental, socioeconomic and cultural change. Assuming that landscape is made of what is visible has more than one implication. What does it mean for landscape to be visible? Visible by whom and from where? The last centuries increased use of images makes these questions necessary. Cinema, colour printing systems, satellite pictures and the internet have all contributed to speeding up the circulation of images as well as stimulated and widened imagination. As custodians of the time-space interface and of the sense of place, landscapes also encourage our territorially steered memories, emotions, perceptions and knowledge, as well as our interests, decisions and actions.

At the beginning of the 20th century both flight technologies and the diffusion of electricity have dramatically changed the perception of landscape as well as its representation. As a consequence, cultural landscape changed and its manipulation became a common practice. In this context, landscapes are the media through which the existing and emerging identity features of places and regions are generated, recorded, assumed and claimed. In short, landscapes are constitutive elements and factors of changing territorial identities.

In the 1940’s, designer and cartographer R.E. Harrison understood the potential impact of the bird eye vision and indirectly concurred in modifying the landscape concept [4]. He used a new and unconventional point of view. His innovative maps were published monthly by Fortune Magazine and in Look at the World: The Fortune Atlas for World Strategy [5]. As a consequence of a new landscape perception cartography changes as well. Harrison’s zenithal projection showed an unusual landscape. In his three dimensional maps as in those of cartographers of the 16th century, mountain profiles were painted onto the profile of the globe. This way of seeing the world, previously made popular by the catholic western vision, had until then been the prerogative of god, angels and saints. This zenithal vision has been well represented in both sacred paintings and frescos. In 19th century, man entered the upper spaces until then considered sacred, and transformed his perception of places. Marc Chagall’s and Osvaldo Licini Amalasunte’s dreamlike landscapes are an example of the ongoing change in landscape perception. A new vision which has anticipated John Lennon’s song Imagine [6].

As a result of this new way of dealing with landscape R. Harrison emotionally reached President Roosevelt’s New Deal America and gave an example of hegemonic use of landscape. Meanwhile – as a consequence of a more and more technological official cartography – ontological landscape elements acquired flatness and conventional colouring while conventional contour lines became a distinguishing feature of landscape representation.

Iceland on the brain

At the turn of the 19th century, a new organization of both global space and global time emerged: the conventional time zones. Industry as well the construction of the extended American rail road system needed workers. Migratory waves of workers brought people from Europe to North America as it also had happened with the previous slave traffic from Africa. The emergence of a new middle class ends in a new expressivity.

Exploration of the continents has begun. Von Humboldt with his expeditions chronicles (1798-1804) to the equinoctial regions opened new frontiers for the geographic and colonialist culture at the beginning of the 19th century. In the same context Sir R.F. Burton (1821-1890) travelled to Africa, India and Near East. During his East African expedition (1857-59) the Tanganyika and Victoria lakes were discovered. Almost fifteen years later (1873) he travelled to Iceland. In his book Thule; or, a summer in Iceland (1875, 2 volumes) he delivered a great quantity of deluded comments about the destination. The most cited and significant, of those comments stands in the book’s preface: Travellers of the early century saw scenes of thrilling horror, of majestic grandeur, and of heavenly beauty, where our more critical, perhaps more cultivated, taste finds very humble features. They had “Iceland on the brain” [3 p. X]. Burton derided the imagination of those who (…) found the landscape thrilling, in his opinion, the only people who were entranced by Iceland where those who had limited experience outside their own country [7]. Burton seemed persuaded that only the other travellers take with them a preconceived idea of Iceland, but in the preface of his book he expressed at least three statements which are in conflict with this assumption:

– The subject (Iceland) is, to some extent, like Greece and Palestine, of the sensational type: we have all read in childhood about those “Wonders of the World”, Hekla and Geysir, and, as must happen under the circumstances, we have all drawn for ourselves our own Iceland – a distorted and exaggerated mental picture of what has not met, and will not meet, the eye of sense [3 p. IX]

– I (Burton) went to Iceland feeling by instict that many travellers had prodigiously exaggerated their descriptions, possibly because they had seldom left home [3 p. X]

– A friend described to me life in Iceland as living in a corner, the very incarnation of the passive mood; and travelling there as full of stolid, stupid risks, that invite you to come and to repeat coming, not like the swiftly pursuing or treacherously lurking perils of tropical climes, but invested with horror of their own – such was not my experience. [3 p. X, XI].

In a way, Burton admitted and denied, within the same text, his preconceived mental image of Iceland.

The Icelandic cultural landscape

There are places where the supernatural, even if well apart from fate and religious practice, is somehow inscribed in the landscape. They are those places and spaces where human settlement is rare and where the genius loci is more often a personal rather than a collective experience. In this kind of deserted sandy or icy landscape, specifically the Icelandic landscape, human survival depends on the aptitude to read landscape and interpret sounds, odours/scents and colours. In this kind of landscape, human survival can be betrayed by an erroneous perception of reality. Senses involved in landscape perception may be thwarted by extreme conditions of nature and amplified by the constant need to remain alert against disorientation, frost, fatigue, wind, light, darkness and possible starvation, as a means of survival. Because of these features a new landscape arises: the parallel world landscape. The invisible peoples (huldufólk) landscape hidden in the visible cultural landscape is definitely a peculiar type of Icelandic cultural landscape.

In 2006 film maker Nisha Inalsingh, presented the documentary titled Huldufólk 102 [8] (Fig. 3). In it she iterviews people (e.g. teachers, historians, farmers, film makers, folklore researchers etc.) regarding the existence of a parallel universe and recounts the interesting and charming landscape related aspects of the Icelandic culture.


Fig. 3 – Huldufolk 102
(Source http://www.huldufolk102.com/home.html)

She says that the movie“(…) is about an idea. How often do you see a documentary that’s about an idea? They are usually about a person or an event or a place, and here we are looking for something that in reality may or may not exist. (…) The charm of the film lies in a blend of breathtaking beautiful scenary worthy of a travel film and the way the Icelandic believers are presented as perhaps eccentric, but never delusional. We get a nice mishmash of history, folklore and first-hand encounters. In the end the impression is of the rare place where the proponents of Christianity were never able to entirely destroy the old gods and beliefs and wisps of Norse goddess Freya still hang in the air. The soundtrack backs up a deliberately ethereal feel. That feeling you get in Iceland, the isolation and also this idea of really being in nature and with nature, we have to be there and get the whole crew feeling that [9]. The documentary is presented on the net with the following words: Beneath the quiet veneer of Iceland lies an invisible nation of huldufólk (hidden people). This fascinating phenomenon, rarely discussed with outsiders, not only pervades Icelandic culture, but also impacts its infrastructure (e.g. road construction and buildings).

(…) Winter’s darkness allows the dazzling and supernatural Northern Lights to pervade the country with its amorphous shapes; casting brilliant colours of yellow, pink and green downward to the land below. Black lava rocks, green mossy rocks, geysers, volcanoes, and glaciers all play their role in this mystical landscape, where the wind snow and light show the power of nature. This spectacular displays reveal the paradoxes that man must contend with-the simplicity of things that we see on a daily basis versus the complexity of things we are unable to see within the world [8].

In the Icelandic landscape the cultural aspect is not only determined by the visible landscape but it includes all kind of related energies.


Fig. 4 – Vík (South Iceland) from Reynishverfi
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


The understanding of the Icelandic cultural landscape relies on syntonic vibration of sounds and colours waves, as well as light waves, soils magnetism and poisonous gas or vaporous soil exhalations (Fig. 4, 5, 6). All these phenomena are well described by some of Iceland’s painters, like Kjarval, who depicted the elusive and mysterious sense of the lava fields in his painting.


Fig. 5 – Námaskard, Iceland:
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


The need of orienting oneself in space and time is primary for humankind. Interpreting landscapes depends on cultural categorizations. The latitude of places and spaces plays a key role in the process. Landscape perception involves the interaction of the five senses generating an emotional response which is then filtered by cultural assumptions. Due to the climate change, at the beginning of the 21st century, the newly acquired accessibility to the Arctic region, until then considered marginal, disclosed the conception of new landscapes. The conception of these marginal landscapes emphasizes both sounds and colours and the need to understand the richness of the native cultural landscape.


Fig. 6 – Búlanstíndur, Iceland
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


Global village landscapes

The modern globalized world, is in part the result of 20th century technological improvements in the field of transportation, which changed the economic value of spaces. This along with the impressive escalation of the media culture’s dissemination (e.g. press, television, cinema, internet etc.) has paved the road for a large scale migrating landscapes phenomenon. Cultures are nowadays influenced and somehow touched by the landscape other by several means:

exoticism          travel offers

information       events



entertainment    movies

                           image projection


memory sharing migrants (immigrating and returning home)

                            travel industry

These influences satisfy the human need to appropriate somebody else’s landscape and sense of belonging to a peculiar landscape.

Active and passive actions are part of the two steps paradigma process:

1 – acquisition of a landscape (it is part of my acquired culture)

I know it        passive action        

– I’ve been there        active action

– I’ve seen it        active action

2 – sense of belonging to a landscape (it is part of the acquired culture)    

– it is the cultural landscape of my origins

. to which I go back when possible            

. from which I come

. from which I ran away

. for which I feel nostalgia

– it is the cultural landscape in which I recognize my cultural identity

All together these migrating landscapes evolve into both place and space social representation, as a shared landscape. In few words the phenomenon develops a dynamic of the genius loci based on the emotional need to evoke and materialize a mental genius loci. Little difference stands between the original and its representation.

Due to their ability to evoke emotion, images of landscapes are now being marketed by the media and advertising industry in order to sell products such as cars, life insurance, telephones etc. This type of marketing boomed in the last two decades of the 20th century. The automobile industry for example often uses scenes of Iceland’s uninhabited landscape to advertise cars.

Landscape nostalgia

In 1937 W.H. Auden e Luis Mac Neice, back home from a travel to Iceland, sponsored by their publisher, wrote Letters from Iceland [10]. In this epistolary book MacNeice writes a poem to his travel mate in which he says:

…you replied

That the North begins inside,


How much is this intuition true? Can it be universally accepted? Answering it is difficult. Sir R. F. Burton in his two volumes book Thule; or, a summer in Iceland made evident his estrangement, which was probably difficult for him to identify. As a matter of fact, while trying to diminish the prodigious Icelandic landscape, he keeps on confronting it with the landscape of places previously visited.

What is the origin of this obsessive need to compare? The uniqueness of the genius loci makes the place. Being in a place, and especially being in Iceland, activates space and time related senses. Burton was instead disinterested to find both alpine flora and glaciers on the sea level and 24 hour sun light which put man in the centre of the sun dial. He compared the Icelandic experience with previous ones ignoring that they are filtered by a different circadian rhythm . Burton seemed to be imprisoned in a chaos of rigidly, mentally catalogued landscapes collected during his life of adventure and travel. Burton’s brain was contaminated by landscapes. Is it possible to suffer from overexposure to landscape?

Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson’s approach is different. In each of his works he expresses the Icelandic-ness of his DNA. Elíasson has totally interiorized the surprising fickleness of the Icelandic landscape which enabled him to transform it into a cultural art product. His astonishing art works are inspired by the cheated senses (senses bewildered by extreme weather conditions). They are samples of migrated Icelandic cultural landscapes. The New York City Waterfalls project, with its four waterfalls, reproduces the Icelandic need to contaminate the others landscape with the Icelandic one (Fig. 7, 8).


Fig. 7 – Waterfalls in Thjórsádalur, Iceland
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)



Fig. 8 – The New York City Waterfalls (Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008) are on display at four waterfront locations in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governors Island.
(Source:http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, p. 6)


In the New York Waterfall project – the exhibition of four man-made waterfalls of monumental scale are on view until October 13 at four sites on the shores of the New York waterfront: one on the Brooklyn anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge; one on the Brooklyn Piers, between Piers 4 and 5 near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade; one in Lower Manhattan at Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge; and one on the north shore of Governors Island [11] – the artist plays with the topos and the names of places. The word island in the Governor Island (North Shore) name may be read in both English and Icelandic languages. Iceland in Icelandic is Ísland, the name of the island from whose cultural landscape the project is derived. The Icelanders’ need to anchor their space-temporal orientation to peculiar landmarks became evident at the beginning of the 20th century when the state owned ships were named after waterfalls. The location Elíasson chose for his project in New York is on the East river which is part of the New York harbour Estuary system. That means it is a place where fresh water (from the Hudson river) and salt water (from the Atlantic Ocean) meet. The location simulates, in some way, a typical Icelandic phenomenon: the confluence of the icy waters of glacial rivers with fresh water rivers (e.g. the confluence of the river Sogn in Jökullsá in southern Iceland). A similar inspiration and emotion arises also from another art work by Elíasson: the Green river (1998) (Fig. 9).


Fig. 9 – The New York City Waterfalls, Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008
(Source:http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, p. 4)

Ólafur Elíasson’s art stresses how light makes visible or invisible landscape features, modifies colours perception and switches on the epyphisis: the biological watch which ties the body to the environment/habitat. The gland seems to have a regulatory function that lets the body survive in all kind of different habitats. This happens through the hormonal secretion of melatonin which works as biological synchronizer and is rhythmically secreted (starting from the syntesis of serotonin) following the light and dark (day and night) alternation [12].

As told by MacNeice and ignored by Sir Burton: the North begins inside! [10]

Landscape for peace

The icelandic imaginable landscape has been widened by two events: the construction of the Hring vegurinn (Road n° 1) finished in 1974 and the 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that Iceland obtained in 1975 [13].

Both events moved the landscape perception from the horizontal to the three levels vertical axis: the sea bottom, the island surface, the space above [12] (Fig. 10). The point of view on landscape was renewed. The cultural approach as well.


Fig. 10 – The three levels vertical axis of Iceland
(Source: Studi Urbinati, 1993)

The mix of cultural landscapes (sea, land and sky) derived from this new viewpoint is vertically crossed by the four primordial elements: fire (magma and eruptions), earth (formed by emerged magma), water (ice generating rivers and sea), air (sky, clouds and winds).

Due to its strategic location during the Cold War era, and to renewable energy resources such as hydroelectric and geothermal energy, Iceland gained acces to the world geopolitic scenario.

On October 9th, 2007 John Lennon’s birthday was commemorated in Iceland by Yõko Ono with a work of art. Imagine Peace Tower is the work of art she dedicated to him [15]. With her work Yõko Ono has enlighted, switched on, the landscape giving visibility to Lennon’s dream of peace for our globalized world [16] (Fig. 11).



Fig. 11 – Stamp Imagine Peace Tower, October 9, 2008
(Source: Frímerkjafréttir 3/2008 Iceland Post, Reykjavik)

Her work, as she explains in her web page’s You Tube video, is inspired by both the Icelandic nature and the architectural elements of a recently man-made Icelandic landscape.The heat of the ground is transformed into light to penetrate the sky. Yõko Ono’s work makes visible also the theory of the three levels vertical axis of Iceland and transforms the high temperature magma heat in a peaceful spear of light.
Iceland is now seen as a tower of peace in the panarctic landscape. In Agust 1941 Harrison conceived the Arctic zenithal projection which generated the comprehensive map titled One  World One War [17]. The same projection was later used to elaborate the UN flag. It is now time to change the title of the map into One World One Peace.
John Lennon defined himself as a dreamer. 

You may say I’m a dreamer
… [18].

Yõko Ono gave ontological form (visibility) to a dream. Iceland is facing a critical moment in its overall weak economic history. It is time to dream and free new energies. Due to the near default of  the Icelandic economy (october 2008) for many people in Iceland everything seems lost. Yõko Ono’s art work might appear as a life-belt.[19, 20] (fig. 12, 13).



 Fig. 12 – Revolution by Johann Smari Karlsson
Mostra fotografica




Fig. 13 – New year’s eve in Bessastadir (Jan. 2010)
(Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2010 Nr. 2 / Seite 15)


Quoting Lennon’s song Imagine, Icelanders are solicited to elaborate a new cultural landscape and become actors of peace:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
… [18].

At the turn of the new Millennium, new global economic and cultural landscapes arise  from the Arctic, the  top of  the world. The key of a globalized peaceful future stands on the concept of time 0 and space 0, The point (place) where meridiens as well as time zones virtually start.



Fig. 14 – Time 0 and Space 0 [p.105 modified]
The point (place) where meridiens as well time zones start



A new deal can arise from the Arctic core (where time and  space originate). Iceland, strategically located in the Atlantic corridor which accesses the Arctic Ocean, plays  a  new  role  [22]. The country which hosted the Reagan-Gorbachev historical meeting in 1986, should now  (almost  thirty  years  later)  be  able  to  promote peace by means of its landscape features. Iceland, the terrestrial guardian of the two marine  corridors which give  access  to  time  0  and  space  0, should offer humanity its imagined landscape for peace.



According  to  Burton,  Auden,  MacNiece,  Kjarval, and Elíasson the dialogue with landscape is very personal and intimate. It may include or  ignore the   rhythms of nature and their alternation. Ólafur Elíasson in New York (MOMA, SP2 and New York City Waterfalls) stresses the two-way dialogue between art and cultural landscape:

– cultural landscape activated by art
– art contaminated by landscapes natural features.



Yõko  Ono, in the Imagine peace tower, stresses the power of land art as a landscape element to promote peace. Peace is the new Icelandic genius loci. The world changes, but again and again landscape, art and the written word will appear to be tied together by aspects of the personal and collective identity as well, as the personal and collective perception of landscapes.



You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one


Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

… [18].




[1] http://burtoniana.org, (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[2]http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[3] Burton, R.F. (1875) Ultima Thule; a summer in Iceland, Vol. 1 – 2, W.P. Nimmo, London (Preface Vol. I, p. X)

Google digital copy: ref. 1.267.061 Library of the University of Michigan, accessed on 28 Jan., 2010


[4] Schulten, S. (1998) Richard Edes Harrison and the challenge to American cartography in Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, 1479-7801, Vol. 50, Issue 1, pp. 174-188


[5] Knopf, A.A. (editor) (1944) Look at the world: The Fortune Atlas for World Strategy, New York


[6] Lennon, J. (1996) Imagine: a celebration of John Lennon, Penguin Studio Books, New York


[7] Oslund K. (2005) The “North begins inside”: imagining Iceland as wilderness and homeland in the GHI Bulletin n. 36 (Spring 2005), (p. 92)


[8] http://www.huldufolk102.com/home.html (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[9] Arpe M. (2006) A little trip into the mystic. Toronto Star, October 27, 2006


[10] Auden W. H., MacNeice L. (2002) Letters from Iceland, Faber and Faber, London


[11]http://www.publicartfund.org/pafweb/projects/08/eliasson/eliasson-08.html (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[12] Foster, R. Kreitzman, L (2007) I ritmi della vita. Gli orologi biologici che controllano l’esistenza di ogni essere vivente (original: Rhitms of Life, 2004), Longanesi, Milano


[13] Jónsson H. (1982) Friends in Conflict . The Anglo-Icelandic Cod Wars and the Law of the Sea, C. Hurst and Co Ltd, London


[14] Campanini. M. S. (1993) Percezione del territorio islandese attraverso le metafore dell’ultimo millennio (da Snorri Sturlusson a Einar Jónson) in Studi Urbinati, B Geografia p. 25-53), Quattroventi, Urbino, p. 48


[15] Friðarsúlan í Viðey in Frímerkjafréttir Ny Frímerki september-nóvember 2008, 3/2008 Iceland Post, Reykjavik, p. 6-7


[16] Lennon J., Ono Y., Sheff D., Golson G.B. (1981) The Playboy interviews with John Lennon and Yõko Ono, Playboy Press, New York


[17] Klinghoffer, A. J. (2006) The power of projections: how maps reflect global politics and history, Greenwood Publishing Group, Boston


[18] http://www.john-lennon.com/songlyrics/songs/Imagine.htm(accessed on January 28, 2010)


[19] Insel des Feuers, (2010) Wirtschaft, Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 2/Seite 15, Munchen


[20] Karlsson, J.MS. (2009) Revolution – Mostra fotografica (Bartolucci. M. editor), Roma


[21] Campanini M. S. (2005) Three Posters, Borgo del libro, Cavi, (p. 2)


[22] Campanini M.S. (2009) Spazio e Tempo sul planisfero. Il punto di vista non è univoco. Suggestioni per un PERCORSO DIDATTICO POLARE CON TRAUSTI VALSSON, p. 85-112 in Campanini M.S. a cura IPY 2007-2008 Esperienza transnazionale per il Laboratorio di Didattica della Geografia, Lampi di Stampa Messaggerie, Milano


[23] Atlante Geografico (2007) Grandi tascabili Istituto Geografico De Agostini (p. 105 modified) Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini


01  02