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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/537

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THE SPIRIT OF CONQUEST.

colossal error must be fought not in the name of a vague and intangible fraternity, but by appealing to the egoistic interest of every one. There will always be wars, because man will never be absolutely sound-minded. At times passion and folly will prevail over reason. But the idea that conquest is the quickest means of increasing prosperity will not be everlasting, because it is utterly false.

Man acts conformably to what seems to be his interest. The idea he has of this depends on his judgment, which varies every day, as do also his desires. There is only one efficacious method of effecting social changes: it is, to modify the desires of men, to bring them to seek new objects, different from the old ones.

A great many Germans are saying now, "We would give up the last drop of our blood rather than surrender Alsace-Lorraine." Why do they say that? Because the possession of the provinces annexed in 1871 procures them some sort of real or imaginary satisfaction. But if, on the other hand, this annexation caused them extreme sufferings, the Germans would say, "We would give up the last drop of our blood to get rid of Alsace-Lorraine." Now, if the Germans (or any other people) could comprehend how largely the spirit of conquest diminishes the sum of their enjoyment, they would certainly express themselves in language of the latter sort. The apostles of perpetual peace have therefore taken the wrong road. Their efforts should bear upon the single object of showing that the appropriation of a neighbor's territories in no way increases the welfare of men. The pessimists answer us that it will take many years for the uselessness of conquests to be accepted. Well, then, man shall have to continue many years in suffering; that is all there is of it.

When will the day come that we shall find out that it is no longer advantageous to seize a neighbor's territory? We do not know. The only thing we can affirm with absolute certainty is, that when it arrives our prosperity will be increased five or ten fold.[1]

This ctesohedonic error (lust for possession) has produced consequences of which we proceed to speak. Just as individuals fancy that they will be better off with larger possessions, so peoples imagine that their prosperity and happiness will be in direct proportion to the territorial extent of their country. Hence one of the silliest aberrations of the human mind—the fatuous idolatry of square mile. A great many Germans still figure it out that they will have a larger


  1. The pessimists are further mistaken. The idea that conquest is disastrous, even to the conqueror, is much more widespread in modern societies than is generally thought. But social reflexes urge the masses to obey their chief blindly. It requires only a Gothic spirit—like Bismarck, for example—to set a whole army in motion, and make it do things which every officer and every soldier would condemn as a personal act.