In spite of recurrent calls for a more locally rooted approach to thebuilding of ‘local capacities’, peace operations today are still largely under the influence of US hegemony and neoliberal values. Their aimis to transform war-torn societies along liberal lines, in both the political and the economic spheres. To achieve this, it is argued that the international community must begin by acting illiberally: rebuilding the structures of the state in order to give it the capacity to monopolize legitimate violence and manage the societal conflicts that are the unfortunate by-products of democracy and the free market. Leaders and ‘high politics’ are the central targets, as it is hoped that the rest of society will be affected in turn. However, this kind of social engineering from the top down can be counterproductive for the peace process and the nature of transition. Civil society should not be a secondary target: it should be the primary one. The Weberian approach to peace operations focuses too much on objective sources of legitimacy at the expense of those rooted in local, subjective perceptions of society. Since transitional justice has recently become part of the liberal peacebuilding ‘package’, integrated into a broad, positive definition of peace itself, transitional justice too should focus on civil society first. Building upon Habermas’s notion of communicative action and Putnam’s definition of social capital, this article will formulate the basis of a new approach to peace operations, one that would aim less at the rebuilding of state institutions and more at the reconstruction of social relations and unfettered dialogue between communities.