Why Men Fight/Chapter III

Why Men Fight by Bertrand Russell



IN spite of the fact that most nations at most times, are at peace, war is one of the permanent institutions of all free communities, just as Parliament is one of our permanent institutions in spite of the fact that it is not always sitting. It is war as a permanent institution that I wish to consider: why men tolerate it; why they ought not to tolerate it; what hope there is of their coming not to tolerate it; and how they could abolish it if they wished to do so.

War is a conflict between two groups, each of which attempts to kill and maim as many as possible of the other group in order to achieve some object which it desires. The object is generally either power or wealth. It is a pleasure to exercise authority over other men, and it is a pleasure to live on the produce of other men's labor. The victor in war can enjoy more of these delights than the vanquished. But war, like all other natural activities, is not so much prompted by the end which it has in view as by an impulse to the activity itself. Very often men desire an end, not on its own account, but because their nature demands the actions which will lead to the end. And so it is in this case: the ends to be achieved by war appear in prospect far more important than they will appear when they are realized, because war itself is a fulfilment of one side of our nature. If men's actions sprang from desires for what would in fact bring happiness, the purely rational arguments against war would have long ago put an end to it. What makes war difficult to suppress is that it springs from an impulse, rather than from a calculation of the advantages to be derived from war.

War differs from the employment of force by the police through the fact that the actions of the police are ordered by a neutral authority, whereas in war it is the parties to the dispute themselves who set force in motion. This distinction is not absolute, since the State is not always wholly neutral in internal disturbances. When strikers are shot down, the State is taking the side of the rich. When opinions adverse to the existing State are punished, the State is obviously one of the parties to the dispute. And from the suppression of individual opinion up to civil war all gradations are possible. But broadly speaking, force employed according to laws previously laid down by the community as a whole may be distinguished from force employed by one community against another on occasions of which the one community is the sole judge. I have dwelt upon this difference because I do not think the use of force by the police can be wholly eliminated, and I think a similar use of force in international affairs is the best hope of permanent peace. At present, international affairs are regulated by the principle that a nation must not intervene unless its interests are involved: diplomatic usage forbids intervention for the mere maintenance of international law. America may protest when American citizens are drowned by German submarines, but must not protest when no American citizens are involved. The case would be analogous in internal affairs if the police would only interfere with murder when it happened that a policeman had been killed. So long as this principle prevails in the relations of States, the power of neutrals cannot be effectively employed to prevent war. In every civilized country two forces coöperate to produce war. In ordinary times some men—usually a small proportion of the population—are bellicose: they predict war, and obviously are not unhappy in the prospect. So long as war is not imminent, the bulk of the population pay little attention to these men, and do not actively either support or oppose them. But when war begins to seem very near, a war-fever seizes hold of people, and those who were already bellicose find themselves enthusiastically supported by all but an insignificant minority. The impulses which inspire war-fever are rather different from those which make some men bellicose in ordinary times. Only educated men are likely to be warlike at ordinary times, since they alone are vividly aware of other countries or of the part which their own nation might play in the affairs of the world. But it is only their knowledge, not their nature, that distinguishes them from their more ignorant compatriots.

To take the most obvious example, German policy, in recent years before the war, was not averse from war, and not friendly to England. It is worth while to try to understand the state of mind from which this policy sprang.

The men who direct German policy are, to begin with, patriotic to an extent which is almost unknown in France and England. The interests of Germany appear to them unquestionably the only interests they need take into account. What injury may, in pursuing those interests, be done to other nations, what destruction may be brought upon populations and cities, what irreparable damage may result to civilization, it is not for them to consider. If they can confer what they regard as benefits upon Germany, everything else is of no account.

The second noteworthy point about German policy is that its conception of national welfare is mainly competitive. It is not the intrinsic wealth of Germany, whether materially or mentally, that the rulers of Germany consider important: it is the comparative wealth in the competition with other civilized countries. For this reason the destruction of good things abroad appears to them almost as desirable as the creation of good things in Germany. In most parts of the world the French are regarded as the most civilized of nations: their art and their literature and their way of life have an attraction for foreigners which those of Germany do not have. The English have developed political liberty, and the art of maintaining an Empire with a minimum of coercion, in a way for which Germany, hitherto, has shown no aptitude. These are grounds for envy, and envy wishes to destroy what is good in other countries. German militarists, quite rightly, judged that what was best in France and England would probably be destroyed by a great war, even if France and England were not in the end defeated in the actual fighting. I have seen a list of young French writers killed on the battlefield; probably the German authorities have also seen it, and have reflected with joy that another year of such losses will destroy French literature for a generation—perhaps, through loss of tradition, for ever. Every outburst against liberty in our more bellicose newspapers, every incitement to persecution of defenseless Germans, every mark of growing ferocity in our attitude, must be read with delight by German patriots, as proving their success in robbing us of our best, and in forcing us to imitate whatever is worst in Prussia.

But what the rulers of Germany have envied us most was power and wealth—the power derived from command of the seas and the straits, the wealth derived from a century of industrial supremacy. In both these respects they feel that their deserts are higher than ours. They have devoted far more thought and skill to military and industrial organization. Their average of intelligence and knowledge is far superior; their capacity for pursuing an attainable end, unitedly and with forethought, is infinitely greater. Yet we, merely (as they think) because we had a start in the race, have achieved a vastly larger Empire than they have, and an enormously greater control of capital. All this is unbearable; yet nothing but a great war can alter it.

Besides all these feelings, there is in many Germans, especially in those who know us best, a hot hatred of us on account of our pride. Farinata degli Uberti surveyed Hell "come avesse lo Inferno in gran dispitto." Just so, by German accounts, English officer prisoners look round them among their captors—holding aloof, as though the enemy were noxious, unclean creatures, toads or slugs or centipedes, which a man does not touch willingly, and shakes off with loathing if he is forced to touch them for a moment. It is easy to imagine how the devils hated Farinata, and inflicted greater pains upon him than upon his neighbors, hoping to win recognition by some slight wincing on his part, driven to frenzy by his continuing to behave as if they did not exist. In just the same way the Germans are maddened by our spiritual immobility. At bottom we have regarded the Germans as one regards flies on a hot day: they are a nuisance, one has to brush them off, but it would not occur to one to be turned aside by them. Now that the initial certainty of victory has faded, we begin to be affected inwardly by the Germans. In time, if we continue to fail in our military enterprises, we shall realize that they are human beings, not just a tiresome circumstance. Then perhaps we shall hate them with a hatred which they will have no reason to resent. And from such a hatred it will be only a short journey to a genuine rapprochement.

The problem which must be solved, if the future of the world is to be less terrible than its present, is the problem of preventing nations from getting into the moods of England and Germany at the outbreak of the war. These two nations as they were at that moment might be taken as almost mythical representatives of pride and envy—cold pride and hot envy. Germany declaimed passionately: "You, England, swollen and decrepit, you overshadow my whole growth—your rotting branches keep the sun from shining upon me and the rain from nourishing me. Your spreading foliage must be lopped, your symmetrical beauty must be destroyed, that I too may have freedom to grow, that my young vigor may no longer be impeded by your decaying mass." England, bored and aloof, unconscious of the claims of outside forces, attempted absent-mindedly to sweep away the upstart disturber of meditation; but the upstart was not swept away, and remains so far with every prospect of making good his claim. The claim and the resistance to it are alike folly. Germany had no good ground for envy; we had no good ground for resisting whatever in Germany's demands was compatible with our continued existence. Is there any method of averting such reciprocal folly in the future?

I think if either the English or the Germans were capable of thinking in terms of individual welfare rather than national pride, they would have seen that, at every moment during the war the wisest course would have been to conclude peace at once, on the best terms that could have been obtained. This course, I am convinced, would have been the wisest for each separate nation, as well as for civilization in general. The utmost evil that the enemy could inflict through an unfavorable peace would be a trifle compared to the evil which all the nations inflict upon themselves by continuing to fight. What blinds us to this obvious fact is pride, the pride which makes the acknowledgment of defeat intolerable, and clothes itself in the garb of reason by suggesting all kinds of evils which are supposed to result from admitting defeat. But the only real evil of defeat is humiliation, and humiliation is subjective; we shall not feel humiliated if we become persuaded that it was a mistake to engage in the war, and that it is better to pursue other tasks not dependent upon world-dominion. If either the English or the Germans could admit this inwardly, any peace which did not destroy national independence could be accepted without real loss in the self-respect which is essential to a good life.

The mood in which Germany embarked upon the war was abominable, but it was a mood fostered by the habitual mood of England. We have prided ourselves upon our territory and our wealth; we have been ready at all times to defend by force of arms what we have conquered in India and Africa. If we had realized the futility of empire, and had shown a willingness to yield colonies to Germany without waiting for the threat of force, we might have been in a position to persuade the Germans that their ambitions were foolish, and that the respect of the world was not to be won by an imperialist policy. But by our resistance we showed that we shared their standards. We, being in possession, became enamored of the status quo. The Germans were willing to make war to up set the status quo; we were willing to make war to prevent its being upset in Germany's favor. So convinced were we of the sacredness of the status quo that we never realized how advantageous it was to us, or how, by insisting upon it, we shared the responsibility for the war. In a world where nations grow and decay, where forces change and populations become cramped, it is not possible or desirable to maintain the status quo for ever. If peace is to be preserved, nations must learn to accept unfavorable alterations of the map without feeling that they must first be defeated in war, or that in yielding they incur a humiliation.

It is the insistence of legalists and friends of peace upon the maintenance of the status quo that has driven Germany into militarism. Germany had as good a right to an Empire as any other Great Power, but could only acquire an Empire through war. Love of peace has been too much associated with a static conception of international relations. In economic disputes we all know that whatever is vigorous in the wage-earning classes is opposed to "industrial peace," because the existing distribution of wealth is felt to be unfair. Those who enjoy a privileged position endeavor to bolster up their claims by appealing to the desire for peace, and decrying those who promote strife between the classes. It never occurs to them that by opposing changes without considering whether they are just, the capitalists share the responsibility for the class war. And in exactly the same way England shares the responsibility for Germany's war. If actual war is ever to cease there will have to be political methods of achieving the results which now can only be achieved by successful fighting, and nations will have voluntarily to admit adverse claims which appear just in the judgment of neutrals.

It is only by some such admission, embodying itself in a Parliament of the nations with full power to alter the distribution of territory, that militarism can be permanently overcome. It may be that the present war will bring, in the Western nations, a change of mood and outlook sufficient to make such an institution possible. It may be that more wars and more destruction will be necessary before the majority of civilized men rebel against the brutality and futile destruction of modern war. But unless our standards of civilization and our powers of constructive thought are to be permanently lowered, I cannot doubt that, sooner or later, reason will conquer the blind impulses which now lead nations into war. And if a large majority of the Great Powers had a firm determination that peace should be preserved, there would be no difficulty in devising diplomatic machinery for the settlement of disputes, and in establishing educational systems which would implant in the minds of the young an ineradicable horror of the slaughter which they are now taught to admire.

Besides the conscious and deliberate forces leading to war, there are the inarticulate feelings of common men, which, in most civilized countries, are always ready to burst into war fever at the bidding of statesmen. If peace is to be secure, the readiness to catch war fever must be somehow diminished. Whoever wishes to succeed in this must first understand what war fever is and why it arises.

The men who have an important influence in the world, whether for good or evil, are dominated as a rule by a threefold desire: they desire, first, an activity which calls fully into play the faculties in which they feel that they excel; secondly, the sense of successfully overcoming resistance; thirdly, the respect of others on account of their success. The third of these desires is sometimes absent: some men who have been great have been without the "last infirmity," and have been content with their own sense of success, or merely with the joy of difficult effort. But as a rule all three are present. Some men's talents are specialized, so that their choice of activities is circumscribed by the nature of their faculties; other men have, in youth, such a wide range of possible aptitudes that their choice is chiefly determined by the varying degrees of respect which public opinion gives to different kinds of success.

The same desires, usually in a less marked degree, exist in men who have no exceptional talents. But such men cannot achieve anything very difficult by their individual efforts; for them, as units, it is impossible to acquire the sense of greatness or the triumph of strong resistance overcome. Their separate lives are unadventurous and dull. In the morning they go to the office or the plow, in the evening they return tired and silent, to the sober monotony of wife and children. Believing that security is the supreme good, they have insured against sickness and death, and have found an employment where they have little fear of dismissal and no hope of any great rise. But security, once achieved, brings a Nemesis of ennui. Adventure, imagination, risk, also have their claims; but how can these claims be satisfied by the ordinary wage-earner? Even if it were possible to satisfy them, the claims of wife and children have priority and must not be neglected.

To this victim of order and good organization the realization comes, in some moment of sudden crisis, that he belongs to a nation, that his nation may take risks, may engage in difficult enterprises, enjoy the hot passion of doubtful combat, stimulate adventure and imagination by military expeditions to Mount Sinai and the Garden of Eden. What his nation does, in some sense, he does; what his nation suffers, he suffers. The long years of private caution are avenged by a wild plunge into public madness. All the horrid duties of thrift and order and care which he has learnt to fulfil in private are thought not to apply to public affairs: it is patriotic and noble to be reckless for the nation, though it would be wicked to be reckless for oneself. The old primitive passions, which civilization has denied, surge up all the stronger for repression. In a moment imagination and instinct travel back through the centuries, and the wild man of the woods emerges from the mental prison in which he has been confined. This is the deeper part of the psychology of the war fever.

But besides the irrational and instinctive element in the war fever, there is always also, if only as a liberator of primitive impulse, a certain amount of quasi-rational calculation and what is euphemistically called "thought." The war fever very seldom seizes a nation unless it believes that it will be victorious. Undoubtedly, under the influence of excitement, men over-estimate their chances of success; but there is some proportion between what is hoped and what a rational man would expect. Holland, though quite as humane as England, had no impulse to go to war on behalf of Belgium, because the likelihood of disaster was so obviously overwhelming. The London populace, if they had known how the war was going to develop, would not have rejoiced as they did on that August Bank Holiday long ago. A nation which has had a recent experience of war, and has come to know that a war is almost always more painful than it is expected to be at the outset, becomes much less liable to war fever until a new generation grows up. The element of rationality in war fever is recognized by Governments and journalists who desire war, as may be seen by their invariably minimizing the perils of a war which they wish to provoke. At the beginning of the South African War Sir William Butler was dismissed, apparently for suggesting that sixty thousand men and three months might not suffice to subdue the Boer Republics. And when the war proved long and difficult, the nation turned against those who had made it. We may assume, I think, without attributing too great a share to reason in human affairs, that a nation would not suffer from war fever in a case where every sane man could see that defeat was very probable.

The importance of this lies in the fact that it would make aggressive war very unlikely if its chances of success were very small. If the peace-loving nations were sufficiently strong to be obviously capable of defeating the nations which were willing to wage aggressive war, the peace-loving nations might form an alliance and agree to fight jointly against any nation which refused to submit its claims to an International Council. Before the present war we might have reasonably hoped to secure the peace of the world in some such way; but the military strength of Germany has shown that such a scheme has no great chance of success at present. Perhaps at some not far distant date it may be made more feasible by developments of policy in America.

The economic and political forces which make for war could be easily curbed if the will to peace existed strongly in all civilized nations. But so long as the populations are liable to war fever, all work for peace must be precarious; and if war fever could not be aroused, political and economic forces would be powerless to produce any long or very destructive war. The fundamental problem for the pacifist is to prevent the impulse towards war which seizes whole communities from time to time. And this can only be done by far-reaching changes in education, in the economic structure of society, and in the moral code by which public opinion controls the lives of men and women. [1]

A great many of the impulses which now lead nations to go to war are in themselves essential to any vigorous or progressive life. Without imagination and love of adventure a society soon becomes stagnant and begins to decay. Conflict, provided it is not destructive and brutal, is necessary in order to stimulate men's activities, and to secure the victory of what is living over what is dead or merely traditional. The wish for the triumph of one's cause, the sense of solidarity with large bodies of men, are not things which a wise man will wish to destroy. It is only the outcome in death and destruction and hatred that is evil. The problem is, to keep these impulses, without making war the outlet for them.

All Utopias that have hitherto been constructed are intolerably dull. Any man with any force in him would rather live in this world, with all its ghastly horrors, than in Plato's Republic or among Swift's Houyhnhnms. The men who make Utopias proceed upon a radically false assumption as to what constitutes a good life. They conceive that it is possible to imagine a certain state of society and a certain way of life which should be once for all recognized as good, and should then continue for ever and ever. They do not realize that much the greater part of a man's happiness depends upon activity, and only a very small remnant consists in passive enjoyment. Even the pleasures which do consist in enjoyment are only satisfactory, to most men, when they come in the intervals of activity. Social reformers, like inventors of Utopias, are apt to forget this very obvious fact of human nature. They aim rather at securing more leisure, and more opportunity for enjoying it, than at making work itself more satisfactory, more consonant with impulse, and a better outlet for creativeness and the desire to employ one's faculties. Work, in the modern world, is, to almost all who depend on earnings, mere work, not an embodiment of the desire for activity. Probably this is to a considerable extent inevitable. But in so far as it can be prevented something will be done to give a peaceful outlet to some of the impulses which lead to war.

It would, of course, be easy to bring about peace if there were no vigor in the world. The Roman Empire was pacific and unproductive; the Athens of Pericles was the most productive and almost the most warlike community known to history. The only form of production in which our own age excels is science, and in science Germany, the most warlike of Great Powers, is supreme. It is useless to multiply examples; but it is plain that the very same vital energy which produces all that is best also produces war and the love of war. This is the basis of the opposition to pacifism felt by many men whose aims and activities are by no means brutal. Pacifism, in practice, too often expresses merely lack of force, not the refusal to use force in thwarting others. Pacifism, if it is to be both victorious and beneficent, must find an outlet, compatible with humane feeling, for the vigor which now leads nations into war and destruction.

This problem was considered by William James in an admirable address on "The Moral Equivalent of War," delivered to a congress of pacifists during the Spanish-American War of 1898. His statement of the problem could not be bettered; and so far as I know, he is the only writer who has faced the problem adequately. But his solution is not adequate; perhaps no adequate solution is possible. The problem, however, is one of degree: every additional peaceful outlet for men's energies diminishes the force which urges nations towards war, and makes war less frequent and less fierce. And as a question of degree, it is capable of more or less partial solutions.[2]

Every vigorous man needs some kind of contest, some sense of resistance overcome, in order to feel that he is exercising his faculties. Under the influence of economics, a theory has grown up that what men desire is wealth; this theory has tended to verify itself, because people's actions are more often determined by what they think they desire than by what they really desire. The less active members of a community often do in fact desire wealth, since it enables them to gratify a taste for passive enjoyment, and to secure respect without exertion. But the energetic men who make great fortunes seldom desire the actual money: they desire the sense of power through a contest, and the joy of successful activity. For this reason, those who are the most ruthless in making money are often the most willing to give it away; there are many notorious examples of this among American millionaires. The only element of truth in the economic theory that these men are actuated by desire for money is this: owing to the fact that money is what is believed to be desirable, the making of money is recognized as the test of success. What is desired is visible and indubitable success; but this can only be achieved by being one of the few who reach a goal which many men would wish to reach. For this reason, public opinion has a great influence in directing the activities of vigorous men. In America a millionaire is more respected than a great artist; this leads men who might become either the one or the other to choose to become millionaires. In Renaissance Italy great artists were more respected than millionaires, and the result was the opposite of what it is in America.

Some pacifists and all militarists deprecate social and political conflicts. In this the militarists are in the right, from their point of view; but the pacifists seem to me mistaken. Conflicts of party politics, conflicts between capital and labor, and generally all those conflicts of principle which do not involve war, serve many useful purposes, and do very little harm. They increase men's interest in public affairs, they afford a comparatively innocent outlet for the love of contest, and they help to alter laws and institutions, when changing conditions or greater knowledge create the wish for an alteration. Everything that intensifies political life tends to bring about a peaceful interest of the same kind as the interest which leads to desire for war. And in a democratic community political questions give every voter a sense of initiative and power and responsibility which relieves his life of something of its narrow unadventurousness. The object of the pacifist should be to give men more and more political control over their own lives, and in particular to introduce democracy into the management of industry, as the syndicalists advise.

The problem for the reflective pacifist is twofold: how to keep his own country at peace, and how to preserve the peace of the world. It is impossible that the peace of the world should be preserved while nations are liable to the mood in which Germany entered upon the war—unless, indeed, one nation were so obviously stronger than all others combined as to make war unnecessary for that one and hopeless for all the others. As this war has dragged on its weary length, many people must have asked themselves whether national independence is worth the price that has to be paid for it. Would it not perhaps be better to secure universal peace by the supremacy of one Power? "To secure peace by a world federation"—so a submissive pacifist may argue—"would require some faint glimmerings of reason in rulers and peoples, and is therefore out of the question; but to secure it by allowing Germany to dictate terms to Europe would be easy, in view of Germany's amazing military success. Since there is no other way of ending war"— so our advocate of peace at any price would contend—"let us adopt this way, which happens at the moment to be open to us." It is worth while to consider this view more attentively than is commonly considered.

There is one great historic example of a long peace secured in this way; I mean the Roman Empire. We in England boast of the Pax Britannica which we have imposed, in this way, upon the warring races and religions in India. If we are right in boasting of this, if we have in fact conferred a benefit upon India by enforced peace, the Germans would be right in boasting if they could impose a Pax Germanica upon Europe. Before the war, men might have said that India and Europe are not analogous, because India is less civilized than Europe; but now, I hope, no one would have the effrontery to maintain anything so preposterous. Repeatedly in modern history there has been a chance of achieving European unity by the hegemony of a single State; but always England, in obedience to the doctrine of the Balance of Power, has prevented this consummation, and preserved what our statesmen have called the "liberties of Europe." It is this task upon which we are now engaged. But I do not think our statesmen, or any others among us, have made much effort to consider whether the task is worth what it costs.

In one case we were clearly wrong: in our resistance to revolutionary France. If revolutionary France could have conquered the Continent and Great Britain, the world would now be happier, more civilized, and more free, as well as more peaceful. But revolutionary France was a quite exceptional case, because its early conquests were made in the name of liberty, against tyrants, not against peoples; and everywhere the French armies were welcomed as liberators by all except rulers and bigots. In the case of Philip II we were as clearly right as we were wrong in 1793. But in both cases our action is not to be judged by some abstract diplomatic conception of the "liberties of Europe," but by the ideals of the Power seeking hegemony, and by the probable effect upon the welfare of ordinary men and women throughout Europe.

"Hegemony" is a very vague word, and everything turns upon the degree of interference with liberty which it involves. There is a degree of interference with liberty which is fatal to many forms of national life; for example, Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was crushed by the supremacy of Spain and Austria. If the Germans were actually to annex French provinces, as they did in 1871, they would probably inflict a serious injury upon those provinces, and make them less fruitful for civilization in general. For such reasons national liberty is a matter of real importance, and a Europe actually governed by Germany would probably be very dead and unproductive. But if "hegemony" merely means increased weight in diplomatic questions, more coaling stations and possessions in Africa, more power of securing advantageous commercial treaties, then it can hardly be supposed that it would do any vital damage to other nations; certainly it would not do so much damage as the present war is doing. I cannot doubt that, before the war, a hegemony of this kind would have abundantly satisfied the Germans. But the effect of the war, so far, has been to increase immeasurably all the dangers which it was intended to avert. We have now only the choice between certain exhaustion of Europe in fighting Germany and possible damage to the national life of France by German tyranny. Stated in terms of civilization and human welfare, not in terms of national prestige, that is now in fact the issue.

Assuming that war is not ended by one State conquering all the others, the only way in which it can be permanently ended is by a world-federation. So long as there are many sovereign States, each with its own Army, there can be no security that there will not be war. There will have to be in the world only one Army and one Navy before there will be any reason to think that wars have ceased. This means that, so far as the military functions of the State are concerned, there will be only one State, which will be world-wide.

The civil functions of the State—legislative, administrative, and judicial—have no very essential connection with the military functions, and there is no reason why both kinds of functions should normally be exercised by the same State. There is, in fact, every reason why the civil State and the military State should be different. The greater modern States are already too large for most civil purposes, but for military purposes they are not large enough, since they are not world-wide. This difference as to the desirable area for the two kinds of State introduces a certain perplexity and hesitation, when it is not realized that the two functions have little necessary connection: one set of considerations points towards small States, the other towards continually larger States. Of course, if there were an international Army and Navy, there would have to be some international authority to set them in motion. But this authority need never concern itself with any of the internal affairs of national States: it need only declare the rules which should regulate their relations, and pronounce judicially when those rules have been so infringed as to call for the intervention of the international force. How easily the limit of the authority could be fixed may be seen by many actual examples.

The civil and military State are often different in practice, for many purposes. The South American Republics are sovereign for all purposes except their relations with Europe, in regard to which they are subject to the United States: in dealings with Europe, the Army and Navy of the United States are their Army and Navy. Our self-governing Dominions depend for their defense, not upon their own forces but upon our Navy. Most Governments, nowadays, do not aim at formal annexation of a country which they wish to incorporate, but only at a protectorate—that is, civil autonomy subject to military control. Such autonomy is, of course, in practice incomplete, because it does not enable the "protected" country to adopt measures which are vetoed by the Power in military control. But it may be very nearly complete, as in the case of our self-governing Dominions. At the other extreme, it may become a mere farce, as in Egypt. In the case of an alliance, there is complete autonomy of the separate allied countries, together with what is practically a combination of their military forces into one single force.

The great advantage of a large military State is that it increases the area over which internal war is not possible except by revolution. If England and Canada have a disagreement, it is taken as a matter of course that a settlement shall be arrived at by discussion, not by force. Still more is this the case if Manchester and Liverpool have a quarrel, in spite of the fact that each is autonomous for many local purposes. No one would have thought it reasonable that Liverpool should go to war to prevent the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, although almost any two Great Powers would have gone to war over an issue of the same relative importance. England and Russia would probably have gone to war over Persia if they had not been allies; as it is, they arrived by diplomacy at much the same iniquitous result as they would otherwise have reached by fighting. Australia and Japan would probably fight if they were both completely independent; but both depend for their liberties upon the British Navy, and therefore they have to adjust their differences peaceably.

The chief disadvantage of a large military State is that, when external war occurs, the area affected is greater. The quadruple Entente forms, for the present, one military State; the result is that, because of a dispute between Austria and Serbia, Belgium is devastated and Australians are killed in the Dardanelles. Another disadvantage is that it facilitates oppression. A large military State is practically omnipotent against a small State, and can impose its will, as England and Russia did in Persia and as Austria-Hungary has been doing in Serbia. It is impossible to make sure of avoiding oppression by any purely mechanical guarantees; only a liberal and humane spirit can afford a real protection. It has been perfectly possible for England to oppress Ireland, in spite of democracy and the presence of Irish Members at Westminster. Nor has the presence of Poles in the Reichstag prevented the oppression of Prussian Poland. But democracy and representative government undoubtedly make oppression less probable: they afford a means by which those who might be oppressed can cause their wishes and grievances to be publicly known, they render it certain that only a minority can be oppressed, and then only if the majority are nearly unanimous in wishing to oppress them. Also the practice of oppression affords much more pleasure to the governing classes, who actually carry it out, than to the mass of the population. For this reason the mass of the population, where it has power, is likely to be less tyrannical than an oligarchy or a bureaucracy.

In order to prevent war and at the same time preserve liberty it is necessary that there should be only one military State in the world, and that when disputes between different countries arise, it should act according to the decision of a central authority. This is what would naturally result from a federation of the world, if such a thing ever came about. But the prospect is remote, and it is worth while to consider why it is so remote.

The unity of a nation is produced by similar habits, instinctive liking, a common history, and a common pride. The unity of a nation is partly due to intrinsic affinities between its citizens, but partly also to the pressure and contrast of the outside world: if a nation were isolated, it would not have the same cohesion or the same fervor of patriotism. When we come to alliances of nations, it is seldom any thing except outside pressure that produces solidarity. England and America, to some extent, are drawn together by the same causes which often make national unity: a (more or less) common language, similar political institutions, similar aims in international politics. But England, France, and Russia were drawn together solely by fear of Germany; if Germany had been annihilated by a natural cataclysm, they would at once have begun to hate one another, as they did before Germany was strong. For this reason, the possibility of cooperation in the present alliance against Germany affords no ground whatever for hoping that all the nations of the world might cooperate permanently in a peaceful alliance. The present motive for cohesion, namely a common fear, would be gone, and could not be replaced by any other motive unless men's thoughts and purposes were very different from what they are now.

The ultimate fact from which war results is not economic or political, and does not rest upon any mechanical difficulty of inventing means for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. The ultimate fact from which war results is the fact that a large proportion of mankind have an impulse to conflict rather than harmony, and can only be brought to cooperate with others in resisting or attacking a common enemy. This is the case in private life as well as in the relations of States. Most men, when they feel themselves sufficiently strong, set to work to make themselves feared rather than loved; the wish to gain the good opinion of others is confined, as a rule, to those who have not acquired secure power. The impulse to quarreling and self-assertion, the pleasure of getting one's own way in spite of opposition, is native to most men. It is this impulse, rather than any motive of calculated self-interest, which produces war, and causes the difficulty of bringing about a World-State. And this impulse is not confined to one nation; it exists, in varying degrees, in all the vigorous nations of the world.

But although this impulse is strong, there is no reason why it should be allowed to lead to war. It was exactly the same impulse which led to duelling; yet now civilized men conduct their private quarrels without bloodshed. If political contest within a World-State were substituted for war, imagination would soon accustom itself to the new situation, as it has accustomed itself to absence of duelling. Through the influence of institutions and habits, without any fundamental change in human nature, men would learn to look back upon war as we look upon the burning of heretics or upon human sacrifice to heathen deities. If I were to buy a revolver costing several pounds, in order to shoot my friend with a view to stealing sixpence out of his pocket, I should be thought neither very wise nor very virtuous. But if I can get sixty-five million accomplices to join me in this criminal absurdity, I become one of a great and glorious nation, nobly sacrificing the cost of my revolver, perhaps even my life, in order to secure the sixpence for the honor of my country. Historians, who are almost invariably sycophants, will praise me and my accomplices if we are successful, and say that we are worthy successors of the heroes who overthrew the might of Imperial Rome. But if my opponents are victorious, if their sixpences are defended at the cost of many pounds each and the lives of a large proportion of the population, then historians will call me a brigand (as I am), and praise the spirit and self-sacrifice of those who resisted me.

War is surrounded with glamour, by tradition, by Homer and the Old Testament, by early education, by elaborate myths as to the importance of the issues involved, by the heroism and self-sacrifice, which these myths call out. Jephthah sacrificing his daughter is a heroic figure, but he would have let her live if he had not been deceived by a myth. Mothers sending their sons to the battlefield are heroic, but they are as much deceived as Jephthah. And, in both cases alike, the heroism which issues in cruelty would be dispelled if there were not some strain of barbarism in the imaginative outlook from which myths spring. A God who can be pleased by the sacrifice of an innocent girl could only be worshiped by men to whom the thought of receiving such a sacrifice is not wholly abhorrent. A nation which believes that its welfare can only be secured by suffering and inflicting hundreds of thousands of equally horrible sacrifices, is a nation which has no very spiritual conception of what constitutes national welfare. It would be better a hundredfold to forgo material comfort, power, pomp, and outward glory than to kill and be killed, to hate and be hated, to throw away in a mad moment of fury the bright heritage of the ages. We have learnt gradually to free our God from the savagery with which the primitive Israelites and the Fathers endowed Him: few of us now believe that it is His pleasure to torture most of the human race in an eternity of hell-fire. But we have not yet learnt to free our national ideals from the ancient taint. Devotion to the nation is perhaps the deepest and most widespread religion of the present age. Like the ancient religions, it demands its persecutions, its holocausts, its lurid heroic cruelties; like them, it is noble, primitive, brutal, and mad. Now, as in the past, religion, lagging behind private consciences through the weight of tradition, steels the hearts of men against mercy and their minds against truth. If the world is to be saved, men must learn to be noble without being cruel, to be filled with faith and yet open to truth, to be inspired by great purposes without hating those who try to thwart them. But before this can happen, men must first face the terrible realization that the gods before whom they have bowed down were false gods and the sacrifices they have made were vain.

  1. These changes, which are to be desired on their own account, not only in order to prevent war, will be discussed in later lectures.
  2. What is said on this subject in the present lecture is only preliminary, since the subsequent lectures all deal with some aspect of the same problem.