Book Discussion: They Called It Peace by Lauren Benton

Photo Courtesy: Princeton University Press


Throughout history imperial conquests and colonizations depended on pervasive raiding, slaving, and plunder. European empires amassed global power by asserting a right to use unilateral force at their discretion. Lauren Benton’s They Called It Peace (Princeton University Press, 2024) is a panoramic history of how these routines of violence remapped the contours of empire and reordered the world from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. 



In an account spanning from Asia to the Americas, Benton shows how imperial violence redefined the very nature of war and peace. Instead of preparing lasting peace, fragile truces ensured an easy return to war. Serial conflicts and armed interventions projected a de facto state of perpetual war across the globe. She describes how seemingly limited war sparked atrocities, from sudden massacres to long campaigns of dispossession and extermination. Her work brings vividly to life a world in which warmongers portrayed themselves as peacemakers and Europeans imagined “small” violence as essential to imperial rule and global order.


Holding vital lessons for us today, Benton reveals how the imperial violence of the past has made perpetual war and the threat of atrocity endemic features of the international order.



Lauren Benton

Barton M. Biggs Professor of History and Law, Yale University



Emma Rothschild

Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History, Harvard University; Director, Joint Center for History and Economics, University of Cambridge



Soumava Basu

Soumava Basu

President and Founder, CGC


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