Tuesday, June 06, 2006
THE RIGHT TO MAKE WAR (1912)
by Friedrich von Bernhardi
Since 1795, when Immanuel Kant published in his old age his treatise on"Perpetual Peace," many have considered it an established fact that war is the destruction of all good and the origin of all evil. In spite of all that history teaches, no conviction is felt that the struggle between nations is inevitable, and the growth of civilization is credited with a power to which war must yield. But, undisturbed by suchhuman theories and the change of times, war has again and again marched from country to country with the clash of arms, and has proved its destructive as well as creative and purifying power. It has not succeeded in teaching mankind what its real nature is. Long periods of war, far from convincing men of the necessity of war, have, on the contrary, always revived the wish to exclude war, where possible, from the political intercourse of nations.
This wish and this hope are widely disseminated even to-day. The maintenance of peace is lauded as the only goal at which statesmanship should aim. This unqualified desire for peace has obtained in our days a quite peculiar power over men's spirits. This aspiration finds its public expression in peace leagues and peace congresses; the Press of every country and of every party opens its columns to it. The current in this direction is, indeed, so strong that the majority of Governments profess--outwardly, at any rate--that the necessity of maintaining peace is the real aim of their policy; while when a war breaks out theaggressor is universally stigmatized, and all Governments exert themselves, partly in reality, partly in pretence, to extinguish the conflagration.
Pacific ideals, to be sure, are seldom the real motive of their action. They usually employ the need of peace as a cloak under which to promote their own political aims. This was the real position of affairs at the Hague Congresses, and this is also the meaning of the action of the United States of America, who in recent times have earnestly tried to conclude treaties for the establishment of Arbitration Courts, first andforemost with England, but also with Japan, France, and Germany. No practical results, it must be said, have so far been achieved.
We can hardly assume that a real love of peace prompts these efforts. This is shown by the fact that precisely those Powers which, as the weaker, are exposed to aggression, and therefore were in the greatest need of international protection, have been completely passed over in the American proposals for Arbitration Courts. It must consequently be assumed that very matter-of-fact political motives led the Americans, with their commercial instincts, to take such steps, and induced "perfidious Albion" to accede to the proposals. We may suppose that England intended to protect her rear in event of a war with Germany, but that America wished to have a free hand in order to follow her policy of sovereignty in Central America without hindrance, and to carry out her plans regarding the Panama Canal in the exclusive interests of America. Both countries certainly entertained the hope of gaining advantage over the other signatory of the treaty, and of winning the lion's share for themselves. Theorists and fanatics imagine that they see in the efforts of President Taft a great step forward on the path to perpetual peace, and enthusiastically agree with him. Even the Minister for Foreign Affairs in England, with well-affected idealism, termed the procedure of the United States an era in the history of mankind.
This desire for peace has rendered most civilized nations anemic, and marks a decay of spirit and political courage such as has often been shown by a race of Epigoni. "It has always been," H. von Treitschke tells us, "the weary, spiritless, and exhausted ages which have played with the dream of perpetual peace."
Everyone will, within certain limits, admit that the endeavours to diminish the dangers of war and to mitigate the sufferings which war entails are justifiable. It is an incontestable fact that war temporarily disturbs industrial life, interrupts quiet economic development, brings widespread misery with it, and emphasizes the primitive brutality of man. It is therefore a most desirable consummation if wars for trivial reasons should be rendered impossible, and if efforts are made to restrict the evils which follow necessarily in the train of war, so far as is compatible with the essential nature of war. All that the Hague Peace Congress has accomplished in this limited sphere deserves, like every permissible humanization of war, universal acknowledgment. But it is quite another matter if the object is to abolish war entirely, and to deny its necessary place in historical development.
This aspiration is directly antagonistic to the great universal laws which rule all life. War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization. "War is the father of all things." [A] The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognized this. [Footnote A: (Heraclitus of Ephesus).]
The struggle for existence is, in the life of Nature, the basis of all healthy development. All existing things show themselves to be the result of contesting forces. So in the life of man the struggle is not merely the destructive, but the life-giving principle. "To supplant or to be supplanted is the essence of life," says Goethe, and the strong life gains the upper hand. The law of the stronger holds good everywhere. Those forms survive which are able to procure themselves the most favourable conditions of life, and to assert themselves in theuniversal economy of Nature. The weaker succumb. This struggle isregulated and restrained by the unconscious sway of biological laws and by the interplay of opposite forces. In the plant world and the animal world this process is worked out in unconscious tragedy. In the human race it is consciously carried out, and regulated by social ordinances. The man of strong will and strong intellect tries by every means to assert himself, the ambitious strive to rise, and in this effort the individual is far from being guided merely by the consciousness of right. The life-work and the life-struggle of many men are determined, doubtless, by unselfish and ideal motives, but to a far greater extent the less noble passions--craving for possessions, enjoyment and honour, envy and the thirst for revenge--determine men's actions. Still more often, perhaps, it is the need to live which brings down even natures of a higher mould into the universal struggle for existence and enjoyment.
There can be no doubt on this point. The nation is made up of individuals, the State of communities. The motive which influences each member is prominent in the whole body. It is a persistent struggle for possessions, power, and sovereignty, which primarily governs the relations of one nation to another, and right is respected so far only as it is compatible with advantage. So long as there are men who have human feelings and aspirations, so long as there are nations who strive for an enlarged sphere of activity, so long will conflicting interests come into being and occasions for making war arise.
"The natural law, to which all laws of Nature can be reduced, is the law of struggle. All intrasocial property, all thoughts, inventions, andinstitutions, as, indeed, the social system itself, are a result of the intrasocial struggle, in which one survives and another is cast out. The extrasocial, the supersocial, struggle which guides the external development of societies, nations, and races, is war. The internal development, the intrasocial struggle, is man's daily work--the struggle of thoughts, feelings, wishes, sciences, activities. The outward development, the supersocial struggle, is the sanguinary struggle ofnations--war. In what does the creative power of this struggle consist? In growth and decay, in the victory of the one factor and in the defeatof the other! This struggle is a creator, since it eliminates."
[B] [Footnote B: Clauss Wagner, "Der Krieg als schaffendes Weltprinzip."]
That social system in which the most efficient personalities possess the greatest influence will show the greatest vitality in the intrasocial struggle. In the extrasocial struggle, in war, that nation will conquer which can throw into the scale the greatest physical, mental, moral, material, and political power, and is therefore the best able to defend itself. War will furnish such a nation with favourable vital conditions, enlarged possibilities of expansion and widened influence, and thus promote the progress of mankind; for it is clear that those intellectual and moral factors which insure superiority in war are also those which render possible a general progressive development. They confer victory because the elements of progress are latent in them. Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow. "War," says A.W. von Schlegel, "is as necessary as the struggle of the elements in Nature."
Now, it is, of course, an obvious fact that a peaceful rivalry may existbetween peoples and States, like that between the fellow-members of a society, in all departments of civilized life--a struggle which need not always degenerate into war. Struggle and war are not identical. This rivalry, however, does not take place under the same conditions as the intrasocial struggle, and therefore cannot lead to the same results. Above the rivalry of individuals and groups within the State stands the law, which takes care that injustice is kept within bounds, and that the right shall prevail. Behind the law stands the State, armed with power, which it employs, and rightly so, not merely to protect, but actively to promote, the moral and spiritual interests of society. But there is no impartial power that stands above the rivalry of States to restrain injustice, and to use that rivalry with conscious purpose to promote the highest ends of mankind. Between States the only check on injustice is force, and in morality and civilization each people must play its own part and promote its own ends and ideals. If in doing so it comes into conflict with the ideals and views of other States, it must either submit and concede the precedence to the rival people or State, or appeal to force, and face the risk of the real struggle--i.e., of war--in order to make its own views prevail. No power exists which can judge between States, and makes its judgments prevail. Nothing, in fact,is left but war to secure to the true elements of progress the ascendancy over the spirits of corruption and decay.
It will, of course, happen that several weak nations unite and form a superior combination in order to defeat a nation which in itself is stronger. This attempt will succeed for a time, but in the end the more intensive vitality will prevail. The allied opponents have the seeds of corruption in them, while the powerful nation gains from a temporary reverse a new strength which procures for it an ultimate victory over numerical superiority. The history of Germany is an eloquent example of this truth.
Struggle is, therefore, a universal law of Nature, and the instinct of self-preservation which leads to struggle is acknowledged to be a natural condition of existence. "Man is a fighter." Self-sacrifice is a renunciation of life, whether in the existence of the individual or in the life of States, which are agglomerations of individuals. The first and paramount law is the assertion of one's own independent existence. By self-assertion alone can the State maintain the conditions of life for its citizens, and insure them the legal protection which each man is entitled to claim from it. This duty of self-assertion is by no means satisfied by the mere repulse of hostile attacks; it includes the obligation to assure the possibility of life and development to the whole body of the nation embraced by the State.
Strong, healthy, and flourishing nations increase in numbers. From a given moment they require a continual expansion of their frontiers, they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must, as a rule, be obtained at the cost of its possessors--that is to say, by conquest, which thus becomes a law of necessity.
The right of conquest is universally acknowledged. At first the procedure is pacific. Over-populated countries pour a stream of emigrants into other States and territories. These submit to the legislature of the new country, but try to obtain favourable conditionsof existence for themselves at the cost of the original inhabitants, with whom they compete. This amounts to conquest.
The right of colonization is also recognized. Vast territories inhabitedby uncivilized masses are occupied by more highly civilized States, and made subject to their rule. Higher civilization and the correspondingly greater power are the foundations of the right to annexation. This right is, it is true, a very indefinite one, and it is impossible to determine what degree of civilization justifies annexation and subjugation. The impossibility of finding a legitimate limit to these international relations has been the cause of many wars. The subjugated nation does not recognize this right of subjugation, and the more powerful civilized nation refuses to admit the claim of the subjugated to independence.This situation becomes peculiarly critical when the conditions ofcivilization have changed in the course of time. The subject nation has, perhaps, adopted higher methods and conceptions of life, and the difference in civilization has consequently lessened. Such a state of things is growing ripe in British India.
Lastly, in all times the right of conquest by war has been admitted. It may be that a growing people cannot win colonies from uncivilized races, and yet the State wishes to retain the surplus population which the mother-country can no longer feed. Then the only course left is to acquire the necessary territory by war. Thus the instinct of self-preservation leads inevitably to war, and the conquest of foreign soil. It is not the possessor, but the victor, who then has the right.The threatened people will see the point of Goethe's lines: "That which them didst inherit from thy sires, In order to possess it, must be won." The procedure of Italy in Tripoli furnishes an example of such conditions, while Germany in the Morocco question could not rouse herself to a similar resolution.
In such cases might gives the right to occupy or to conquer. Might is at once the supreme right, and the dispute as to what is right is decided by the arbitrament of war. War gives a biologically just decision, since its decisions rest on the very nature of things.
Just as increase of population forms under certain circumstances a convincing argument for war, so industrial conditions may compel the same result. In America, England, Germany, to mention only the chief commercial countries, industries offer remunerative work to great masses of the population. The native population cannot consume all the products of this work. The industries depend, therefore, mainly on exportation. Work and employment are secured so long as they find markets which gladly accept their products, since they are paid for by the foreign country. But this foreign country is intensely interested in liberating itself from such tribute, and in producing itself all that it requires. We find, therefore, a general endeavour to call home industries into existence, and to protect them by tariff barriers; and, on the other hand, the foreign country tries to keep the markets open to itself, to crush or cripple competing industries, and thus to retain the consumer for itself or win fresh ones. It is an embittered struggle which rages in the market of the world. It has already often assumed definite hostile forms in tariff wars, and the future will certainly intensify this struggle. Great commercial countries will, on the one hand, shut their doors more closely to outsiders, and countries hitherto on the down-grade will develop home industries, which, under more favourable conditions of labour and production, will be able to supply goods cheaper than those imported from the old industrial States. These latter will see their position in these world markets endangered, and thus it may well happen that an export country can no longer offer satisfactory conditions of life to its workers. Such a State runs the danger not onlyof losing a valuable part of its population by emigration, but of also gradually falling from its supremacy in the civilized and political world through diminishing production and lessened profits.
In this respect we stand to-day at the threshold of a development. We cannot reject the possibility that a State, under the necessity of providing remunerative work for its population, may be driven into war. If more valuable advantages than even now is the case had been at stake in Morocco, and had our export trade been seriously menaced, Germany would hardly have conceded to France the most favourable position in the Morocco market without a struggle. England, doubtless, would not shrink from a war to the knife, just as she fought for the ownership of the South African goldfields and diamond-mines, if any attack threatened her Indian market, the control of which is the foundation of her world sovereignty. The knowledge, therefore, that war depends on biological laws leads to the conclusion that every attempt to exclude it from international relations must be demonstrably untenable. But it is not only a biological law, but a moral obligation, and, as such, an indispensable factor in civilization.
The attitude which is adopted towards this idea is closely connected with the view of life generally.
If we regard the life of the individual or of the nation as something purely material, as an incident which terminates in death and outward decay, we must logically consider that the highest goal which man can attain is the enjoyment of the most happy life and the greatest possible diminution of all bodily suffering. The State will be regarded as a sortof assurance office, which guarantees a life of undisturbed possession and enjoyment in the widest meaning of the word. We must endorse the view which Wilhelm von Humboldt professed in his treatise on the limits of the activity of the State.[D] The compulsory functions of the State must be limited to the assurance of property and life. The State will be considered as a law-court, and the individual will be inclined to shun war as the greatest conceivable evil.
[Footnote D: W. von Humboldt, "Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen derWirksamkelt des Staates zu bestimmen."]
If, on the contrary, we consider the life of men and of States as merely a fraction of a collective existence, whose final purpose does not rest on enjoyment, but on the development of intellectual and moral powers,and if we look upon all enjoyment merely as an accessory of the chequered conditions of life, the task of the State will appear in a very different light. The State will not be to us merely a legal and social insurance office, political union will not seem to us to have the one object of bringing the advantages of civilization within the reach of the individual; we shall assign to it the nobler task of raising the intellectual and moral powers of a nation to the highest expansion, and of securing for them that influence on the world which tends to the combined progress of humanity. We shall see in the State, as Fichte taught, an exponent of liberty to the human race, whose task it is to put into practice the moral duty on earth. "The State," says Treitschke,"is a moral community. It is called upon to educate the human race by positive achievement, and its ultimate object is that a nation should develop in it and through it into a real character; that is, alike for nation and individuals, the highest moral task."
This highest expansion can never be realized in pure individualism. Man can only develop his highest capacities when he takes his part in a community, in a social organism, for which he lives and works. He must be in a family, in a society, in the State, which draws the individual out of the narrow circles in which he otherwise would pass his life, and makes him a worker in the great common interests of humanity. The State alone, so Schleiermacher once taught, gives the individual the highest degree of life.[E]
[Footnote E: To expand the idea of the State into that of humanity, and thus to entrust apparently higher duties to the individual, leads to error, since in a human race conceived as a whole struggle and, by implication, the most essential vital principle would be ruled out. Any action in favour of collective humanity outside the limits of the State and nationality is impossible. Such conceptions belong to the wide domain of Utopias.]
War, from this standpoint, will be regarded as a moral necessity, if it is waged to protect the highest and most valuable interests of a nation. As human life is now constituted, it is political idealism which calls for war, while materialism--in theory, at least--repudiates it.