Anzac Eve is the perfect time to reflect on the reality of war. And I do. Every year. Here’s how I began last year’s written reflection:
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. For thousands of years war has been an intrinsic part of the social and political order. For most of human history, armed conflict has been the accepted method by which ambitions are achieved. It took more than mere wishes to change that tragic history. It was not simple pacifism that did 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.
Wars are not natural events or accidents, like earthquakes, landslides or hurricanes. No, 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 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…
Austrian-born economist Ludwig Von Mises saw more than his share of war and its results. 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 defense. 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 labor. 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 labor. Concomitantly he must more and more restrict the sphere in which he resorts to military action. The emergence of the international division of labor 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 labor. 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. Endeavors 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 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.
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.