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La paz perpetua (c.2007), Juan Mayorga Ruano

English title: Perpetual Peace
Date written: c. 2007
First publication date: 2007
First production date: 2008
Keywords: ideology, ideology > politics, ideology > morality, ideology > war, power > use and abuse, violence > torture, power
Title information

The title of the play is taken from Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay, 'Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch'.


Counterterrorism squad K7 are recruiting. Only one dog can earn the right to wear their famous white collar. Will it be John-John, the cross-breed, trained to follow orders and not ask questions? Or Odin, the wily Rottweiler with his exemplary sense of smell? Or will the philosophical German shepherd Immanuel get the job?


In a locked room, three dogs awake from a drugged sleep. From over 100 dogs who applied, only these three have made the final round in the competition to join the elite K7 counterterrorism squad. John-John is a fierce and impulsive cross-breed, already skilled in counterterrorism. Odin, the street-smart Rottweiler, is an extraordinary sniffer dog. Immanuel, the German shepherd, is different. He is not fierce, nor does he have a good sense of smell. But he is highly intelligent, and has a very personal reason for wanting to join K7.

The dogs are joined by Cassius and the Human Being. Cassius is a veteran of K7, an old Labrador, who limps and who now only has one eye. He tells them there is only one place available in K7. The successful candidate will be awarded the prestigious K7 white collar. Three tests remain that will decide who gets the job. Firstly, the dogs must sniff out a scent trail. As an expert sniffer, Odin is convinced he has done well, as does the ever-confident John-John. The two dogs nearly come to blows over who is the best sniffer dog. Immanuel, meanwhile, wonders if they are being watched and if their interactions are being assessed as part of the test.

After a while, John-John is led out of the room to undergo a physical examination. In his absence, Odin tries to win Immanuel over, suggesting that they join forces to eliminate John-John from the competition. But Immanuel refuses to participate in any underhand tactics. John-John returns, and Immanuel is led out. Odin is more successful at winning John-John over, telling the impulsive cross-breed that Immanuel thinks he is stupid. Odin encourages John-John to kill Immanuel in revenge. And so, when Immanuel returns and Odin is led out, John-John launches his attack. John-John may be stronger, but Immanuel has the more powerful intellect. He distracts John-John by interesting him in Pascal’s wager, explaining how the French philosopher wagered that it was better to believe in God and be wrong, than not to believe in him and find out after death that he did indeed exist. John-John is fascinated by this idea.

When Odin returns, Cassius announces the second test. It is a questionnaire about terrorism. One question asks each of them to define terrorism. We only learn what Odin wrote, or rather what he did not write. He did not answer the question, arguing that words like terrorism and democracy are empty concepts, too often twisted and manipulated by human beings. His skepticism about what is considered right and wrong comes across again during the third test. In this test each dog answers questions about themselves. Odin is quizzed about his shady employment history. Nonchalantly, the Rottweiler admits he is a mercenary, available for hire to the highest bidder. As he will do with all the dogs, Cassius asks Odin what he thinks of the Human Being. Odin, who has displayed a marked disregard towards humans and human behaviour so far, claims that he cannot even feel the Human Being holding him by the dog lead. When John-John is asked the same question about the Human Being, he eagerly rhymes off one of the lessons he has learnt during his training, stating that all dogs are partners to their human owners, and that they must look out for each other. Lastly, Immanuel is questioned. Cassius is impressed by Immanuel’s knowledge of philosophy, prompting the dog to explain that his beloved owner Isabel was a philosophy student. She jokingly named him after Immanuel Kant. Immanuel admits to killing a previous owner, who consistently mistreated him. Isabel was different. He was her guide dog, and they went everywhere together. Tragically, Isabel was blown up in a terrorist attack. Immanuel witnessed the atrocity, and decided he had to do something, hence his application to K7.

As they near the end of the selection process, Cassius announces that the competition is too close. They must all take one final test. The Human Being explains that they are holding a man whom they suspect of terrorism. The dogs must consider whether or not they should torture this potentially-innocent man to obtain information. Even if the man is guilty, the Human Being asks them, might torturing him bring them down to his level? The dilemma unnerves John-John. He is used to following orders, not making his own decisions. Eventually, in an echo of Pascal’s wager, John-John comes to the conclusion that it is better to torture the man, that too many lives might be at risk if he does not. Even if the man turns out to be innocent, it is only he who will have suffered. Odin agrees, and the two dogs go towards the room holding the man. They are held back by the Human Being, who wants to hear what Immanuel has to say. Immanuel resorts to philosophical reasoning to argue that torture is never acceptable. The Human Being derides his idealism, insisting provocatively that even Immanuel Kant would agree that some degree of violence is necessary to achieve future peace: that the ends justify the means.

At the end of the play, John-John and Odin proceed towards the room holding the prisoner. Immanuel tries to block their path, and is murdered by his rivals. He dies for his beliefs; John-John and Odin have killed for theirs.


La paz perpetua (Perpetual Peace) takes its name from an essay by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), entitled ‘Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch’ (1795). In this essay, Kant considers whether it is possible to achieve universal peace. He outlines the circumstances that must be put in place to make universal peace possible.

Juan Mayorga explains why he chose to write a play referencing Kant’s ideas and ‘Perpetual Peace’ in particular:

I love Kant […] For me he is the best example of an enlightened philosopher. Here, I try to imagine how he would respond in our context, where the threat of terrorism leads us into moral debates that, ten years ago, we would never have even considered. Debates that are all around us – for example, the possible reintroduction of torture. (Perales 2008)

Despite this, Mayorga insists that the German shepherd Immanuel is not meant to be seen as Kant in dog form, but rather someone who has listened to philosophy lessons, and understood them as much as he can. The fact that there are limits to the dog Immanuel’s understanding of philosophy allows for a more rigorous and nuanced moral debate about terrorism and about power (Mateo and Ladra 2008: 66).

  • Mateo, Nieves and Ladra, David. 2008. ‘La paz perpetua: Conversación con Juan Mayorga’, Primer acto, 326, 63-71 (in Spanish)

  • Perales, Liz. 2008. ‘Gómez y Mayorga. Director y autor reflexionan sobre el terror en La paz perpetua’, El Cultural, 17 April, http://www.elcultural.es/version_papel/TEATRO/22956/Gomez_y_Mayorga [accessed February 2011] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

Critical response

La paz perpetua (Perpetual Peace) has received widespread critical acclaim. It won the Valle-Inclán Prize in 2009 and its exploration of the rights and wrongs of state violence in the face of terrorism has struck a chord among audiences. Critics draw parallels between the play and its Spanish context. Javier Villán, for example, notes that it is easy to see in the play echoes of the GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación / Antiterrorist Liberation Groups) – the death squads established illegally in Spain to combat the Basque separatist group, ETA (Villán 2008). Nevertheless, Mayorga states that the play is deliberately non-culturally specific. Rather, it explores the general idea of state power and the concept of ‘necessary evil’ when confronted with terrorist threats (Mayorga and Sorel 2008: 14). Hence his claim that ‘the play is not so much about terrorism, but rather about what measures its enemies can or cannot take to fight against it’ (Perales 2008).

  • Mayorga, Juan and Sorel, Andrés. 2008. ‘Cinco cuestiones a propósito de La paz perpetua. Diálogo entre Andrés Sorel y Juan Mayorga’, República de las Letras, 108, 13-15 (in Spanish)

  • Perales, Liz. 2008. ‘Gómez y Mayorga. Director y autor reflexionan sobre el terror en La paz perpetua’, El Cultural, 17 April, http://www.elcultural.es/version_papel/TEATRO/22956/Gomez_y_Mayorga [accessed February 2011] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

  • Villán, Javier. 2008. ‘Ecos del GAL, terrorismo y razón de Estado’, El Mundo, 26 April (in Spanish)

Further information

The ending of the play has changed since its first publication in Primer Acto in 2007. In the 2007 version, the Human Being enters alone at the end of the play. The dogs start to bark, and there is a suggestion that they are all shot. In the 2009 version, John-John and Odin attack Immanuel. They kill him after he tries to prevent them from torturing the prisoner.

  • Mayorga, Juan. 2007. ‘La paz perpetua’, Primer acto, 320, 51-82

  • Mayorga, Juan. 2008. La paz perpetua. Madrid, Centro Dramático Nacional

  • Mayorga, Juan. 2009. La paz perpetua. Oviedo, Editorial KRK

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 22 May 2011.

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