War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.
- Sir Henry Maine (1822-88)
Charles Sargeant Jagger's Royal Artillery Monument at Hyde Park Corner, London
“IT IS WELL THAT WAR is so terrible,” said General Robert E. Lee after the slaughter at Fredericksburg, “otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” *
But fond of it humans have been for most of our history. Far too fond. For thousands of years war has been an intrinsic part of the social and political order, with armed conflict across the known world the accepted method by which ambitions are achieved and ideologies established.
Peace is a relatively modern invention, whereas might has made “right” for millennia.
Peace proper really only broke out worldwide for the first time, for any length of time, in the globalised trading world that broke out after the tragic Napoleonic & French Revolutionary Wars of 1790 to 1815. Thereafter began, for nearly a century, the freest and most peaceful period the world had yet seen. ** Watching peace break out as global trade burst forth, economists like Frederic Bastiat drew the lesson for the rest of us:
Where good don’t cross borders, armies will.
And where they do, it’s in the best interests of would-be belligerents to jaw, jaw, not war, war.
IT TOOK MORE THAN mere wishes to change that tragic history. It was not simple pacifism that did it. (We might remember George Orwell's observation of English pacifists that pacifism is a doctrine that can only be preached behind the protective cover of the Royal Navy. And where such protective cover was lacking, things ended badly for all who tried it.)
It was only the realisation (developed over many centuries) that the interests of human beings are essentially harmonious that eventually allowed the “invention of peace”—however sporadic has been its application since.
Wars are neither natural events nor accidents, like earthquakes, landslides or hurricanes. Like economic depressions, totalitarian dictatorships and murder by concentration camp, wars are neither acts of nature nor 'Acts of God': Wars are acts of man -- of men who seek to achieve their values by violence, resisted only by those who rise to defend their own lives, their values, and their sacred honour.
Wars are the result of aggression by those who see value only in force, and who see other human beings as chattel… In short, war is the second-worst thing on earth—second-worst only because the very worst is tyranny, an act of war by governments against those they are supposed to protect. It is tyrannical governments and movements intent on inflicting tyranny and oppression against others that begin wars of conquest and campaigns of terror. It is the existence of such entities that make wars of self-defence necessary.
When such tyrannies exist and are allowed to exist, then peace without justice is not true peace. Peace without justice rewards the tyrannical and is an injustice to those they enslave and kill. As long as some human beings choose to deal with other human beings with the whip, the chain and the gun -- with stonings, fatwahs and holocausts -- with the torture chamber, the dungeon and the gulag -- as long as some men continue to enslave and attempt to enslave others, then wars will continue to happen, and we will continue to need to be ready to defend ourselves.
If we have things worth living for, which we do, then for that much at least we all have things worth defending. As Thomas Jefferson observed over two-hundred years ago, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Two-hundred years later, nothing has changed.
THE INVENTION OF PEACE required not just the rejection of force, but the rejection of statism.
Statism—in fact and in principle—is nothing more than gang rule [argues Ayn Rand]. A dictatorship is a gang devoted to looting the effort of the productive citizens of its own country. When a statist ruler exhausts his own country’s economy, he attacks his neighbours. It is his only means of postponing internal collapse and prolonging his rule. A country that violates the rights of its own citizens, will not respect the rights of its neighbours. Those who do not recognize individual rights, will not recognize the rights of nations: a nation is only a number of individuals.
Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by looting; a free country survives by production.
Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies. World War II was started by the alliance of Nazi Germany with Soviet Russia and their joint attack on Poland.
Observe that in World War II, both Germany and Russia seized and dismantled entire factories in conquered countries, to ship them home—while the freest of the mixed economies, the semi-capitalistic United States, sent billions worth of lend-lease equipment, including entire factories, to its allies.
Germany and Russia needed war; the United States did not and gained nothing. (In fact, the United States lost, economically, even though it won the war...) Yet it is capitalism that today’s peace-lovers oppose and statism that they advocate—in the name of peace.
Guards of the Dead by Austrian sculptor Franz Metzner, in the Crypt of the Monument to the Battle of the Nations created to commemorate the battle that was the beginning of the end for Napoleon’s dictatorship, after whose fall Europe enjoyed nearly a century of (almost) laissez faire and its longest interlude of peace ever … before the rising tide of statolatry and aggressive nationalism combined to create another bloodbath.
Ironically, the monument itself was built to commemorate the victory of the people over an oppressive ruler —but in commemorating the victory of ‘Der Volk” it became for some a commemoration of the maturation of the Germans as an organised ethnic group, and hence was to become the locus of the same aggressive nationalism “the people” had opposed, but this time in German garb.
AGREEING WITH THIS PRESCRIPTION was Austrian-born economist Ludwig Von Mises, who despite his best efforts saw more than his share of war and its results up close. The invention of peace, he wrote in 1949,
can only come about with the rejection of the roots of war. Which is to say, to reject the spirit of conquest and the notion that values can be attained through aggressive government action; which is to say, to reject statolatry—which is to say, to reject the warrior code and embrace the code of the trader…
The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another…
War and the Market Economy:
Of course, in the long run war and the preservation of the market economy are incompatible. Capitalism is essentially a scheme for peaceful nations. But this does not mean that a nation which is forced to repel foreign aggressors must substitute government control for private enterprise. If it were to do this, it would deprive itself of the most efficient means of defence. There is no record of a socialist nation which defeated a capitalist nation. In spite of their much glorified war socialism, the Germans were defeated in both World Wars.
What the incompatibility of war and capitalism really means is that war and high civilization are incompatible. If the efficiency of capitalism is directed by governments toward the output of instruments of destruction, the ingenuity of private business turn out weapons which are powerful enough to destroy everything. What makes war and capitalism incompatible with one another is precisely the unparalleled efficiency of the capitalist mode of production.
The market economy, subject to the sovereignty of the individual consumers, turns out products which make the individual's life more agreeable. It caters to the individual's demand for more comfort. It is this that made capitalism despicable in the eyes of the apostles of violence. They worshiped the "hero," the destroyer and killer, and despised the bourgeois and his "peddler mentality" (Sombart). Now mankind is reaping the fruits which ripened from the seeds sown by these men…
The Futility of War:
What distinguishes man from animals is the insight into the advantages that can be derived from cooperation under the division of labour. Man curbs his innate instinct of aggression in order to cooperate with other human beings. The more he wants to improve his material well-being, the more he must expand the system of the division of labour. Concomitantly he must more and more restrict the sphere in which he resorts to military action. The emergence of the international division of labour requires the total abolition of war. Such is the essence of the laissez-faire philosophy...
This philosophy is, of course, incompatible with statolatry. In its context the state, the social apparatus of violent oppression, is entrusted with the protection of the smooth operation of the market economy against the onslaughts of antisocial individuals and gangs. Its function is indispensable and beneficial, but it is an ancillary function only. There is no reason to idolize the police power and ascribe to it omnipotence and omniscience. There are things which it can certainly not accomplish. It cannot conjure away the scarcity of the factors of production, it cannot make people more prosperous, it cannot raise the productivity of labour. All it can achieve is to prevent gangsters from frustrating the efforts of those people who are intent upon promoting material well-being.
The liberal philosophy of Bentham and Bastiat had not yet completed its work of removing trade barriers and government meddling with business when the counterfeit theology of the divine state began to take effect. Endeavours to improve the conditions of wage earners and small farmers by government decree made it necessary to loosen more and more the ties which connected each country's domestic economy with those of other countries. Economic nationalism, the necessary complement of domestic interventionism, hurts the interests of foreign peoples and thus creates international conflict. It suggests the idea of amending this unsatisfactory state of affairs by war. Why should a powerful nation tolerate the challenge of a less powerful nation? ….
Such was the ideology of the German, Italian, and Japanese warmongers. It must be admitted that they were consistent from the point of view of the new teachings. Interventionism generates economic nationalism, and economic nationalism generates bellicosity. If men and commodities are prevented from crossing the borderlines, why should not the armies try to pave the way for them?
From the day when Italy, in 1911, fell upon Turkey, fighting was continual. There was almost always shooting somewhere in the world. The peace treaties concluded were virtually merely armistice agreements. Moreover they had to do only with armies of the great powers. Some of the smaller nations were always at war. In addition there were no less pernicious civil wars and revolutions.
How far we are today from the rules of international law developed in the age of limited warfare! Modern war is merciless, it does not spare pregnant women or infants; it is indiscriminate killing and destroying. It does not respect the rights of neutrals. Millions are killed, enslaved, or expelled from the dwelling places in which their ancestors lived for centuries. Nobody can foretell what will happen in the next chapter of this endless struggle.
This has little to do with the atomic bomb. The root of the evil is not the construction of a new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest….
Modern civilization is a product of the philosophy of laissez faire. It cannot be preserved under the ideology of government omnipotence. Statolatry owes much to the doctrines of Hegel. However, one may [perhaps] pass over many of Hegel's inexcusable faults, for Hegel also coined the phrase "the futility of victory" (die Ohnmacht des Sieges).
To defeat the aggressors is not enough just to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.
“If men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose. So long as they hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged “good” can justify it—there can be no peace within a nation and no peace among nations.”
- Ayn Rand, “The Roots of War”
* * * * *
* Lee himself was so fond of it, he was happy to have the slaughter he helped promote, the American Civil War, continue for three more years after Fredericksburg!
** I say “relative peace” because the world still endured the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and scores of imperialistic wars of conquest. But no wars spanned the known world, which meant for the first time on the planet, the majority of people on the globe experienced peace rather than almost continual war. And this century of near-peace was when the modern world was born.