from “Why war?”


Cyril Joad

by C E M Joad


“My case is that war is not something that is inevitable, but is the result of certain man-made circumstances; that man can abolish them, as he abolished the circumstances in which plague flourished.”

Chapter VIII – International government and the ghost of the league

The Doctrine of the Absolute Sovereignty of the State.

In the last chapter I concluded that force is necessary to the maintenance of an ordered society, and tried to define the sense in which every society is based on force. What is true of the relations between individuals within the State is, I submit, also true of the relations between States. Just as the individual in a civilized State is restrained by an impartial law backed by the public force of the nation from aggressing against other individuals, just as the existence of this force prevents him in the case of dispute from acting as both judge and jury in his own cause, so I believe that war will cease only when nations, like individuals, are restrained by an impartial law backed by the public force of all nations from aggressing against other nations, and are prevented in the case of dispute by the existence of this law and the presence of this force from acting as both judge and jury in their own cause. It is only under such a system that the world of States will ever enjoy peace and security, just as it has only been under a similar system that individuals within States have ever enjoyed peace and security.

Now in order that such a system may be established, it is necessary that the absolute sovereignty of national States should be superseded. The doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of States is one which entitles each State, undeterred by considerations of morality, to pursue whatever ends seem to it to be to its advantage. “Where the safety of the country is at stake,” wrote Machiavelli, “no consideration of justice or injustice, of honour and dishonour, can find a place. Every scruple must be set aside.” “What scoundrels we should be,” said Cavour, “if we did for ourselves what we are doing for Italy.” The doctrine is popular to day. “Any means,” a Nazi speaker recently remarked, “however immoral, can legitimately be resorted to for the seizure and preservation of sovereign authority.” If morality enters into the State’s consideration, it does so only in so far as it can be identified with the State’s interests. “Whatever,” Herr Wagner, Minister of the Interior in Nazi Germany, has announced, “is useful to the German people, is right. Whatever is harmful is wrong.”

Its Necessary Issue in War.

Now this doctrine is, it is obvious, tantamount to the assertion in the international sphere of the necessity of anarchy. If the State is an absolute authority, if it is to pursue its advantage wherever it may happen to find it, without reference to the principles of morality or the rights of other States, if self-expression and expansion are necessities of its nature, if it owns no public law beyond the expression of its own will, then peace, it is obvious, depends upon no other State venturing to thwart its ambitions. Yet other States will, on the basis of the same doctrine, demand similar rights of self-expression and self-realization to be fulfilled by similar policies of expansion. Between such States a clash sooner or later will inevitably occur. Meanwhile, no State will be able to trust the word of another, and each State will be ready to attack its neighbour, whenever it thinks to gain an advantage by doing so. Fichte’s remark “Pronounce peace, so that you may begin war with an advantage in your favour” admirably sums up the morality by which the doctrine is inspired. States, then, are to make war whenever they think that they can wage it with advantage. Now since, under the existing system, there will always be some State which, whether rightly or wrongly, thinks it can wage war with advantage, war will succeed war until the structure of civilization is destroyed and the bright heritage of the ages utterly dissipated. So far from this conclusion being disavowed, advocates of the absoluteness of the State explicitly recommend war as a means of enhancing its individuality. This is, indeed, one of the commonest of the grounds on which war is praised. “The state of war,” writes Hegel, “shows the omnipotence of the State in its individuality.” The State is then revealed as “the absolute power on earth; its own end and object”.

That War is a Luxury we can no longer Afford.

Now whatever may have been the case in the past, war is to-day a form of self-indulgence which man can no longer afford; he has become too powerful and, therefore, too dangerous. Give a schoolboy an airgun and he may shoot a few sparrows or break a window or two, but that is the extent of the damage; give him a modern revolver and he becomes a public danger. One does not, after all, present one’s children with dangerous toys, until they are old enough to play with them without harming themselves. One does not press upon the baby a box of matches. Yet these precisely are the gifts with which science has dowered modern man, with the result that he is in measurable distance of destroying himself through his inability to devise the political machinery which is necessary to canalize and direct for the public safety the powers with which science has invested him.

Unless he can devise this machinery before it is too late, our civilization will follow its predecessors to destruction, and man himself may be superseded and sent to join the mesozoic reptiles upon the evolutionary scrap-heap of life’s discarded experiments, while some being better adapted to carry forward the process of life’s development replaces him upon the evolutionary stage.

Hence it is not necessary to show that man is worse than he ever was, merely that he has a need to be very much better, if he is to escape destruction. He must learn to transcend the morals of the jungle and the nursery, that is, he must learn to advance beyond the present anarchy of rival sovereign States, and this he must do, not merely as a condition of advancement, but as a condition of survival. Such, then, is the task which awaits this and the immediately succeeding generations.

Epitaph upon Man.

Let us suppose that the task is not performed. How is the course of man’s future to be envisaged? To answer, I will take a glance at the end of man’s career upon the earth, as seen through the eyes of a Martian historian writing in the year 10,000 PMI (Post Martem Incarnatum.) (It will be evident in a moment why no earthly history will be available to serve our purpose).

“On our neighbouring planet the Earth the age of the greater reptiles was succeeded by that of the vertebrate. mammals. Of these the Hominidae, though physically a comparatively feeble species, who were forced to cover themselves with the skins of other animals in order to protect themselves against the vagaries of the climate, were nevertheless enabled, in virtue of their possession of a low cunning in which pessimistic writers have seen some likeness to our Martian intelligence, to establish a complete domination over the whole of the rest of the planet. This they used for the purpose of preying upon all the other forms of life which the planet contained, for food, the species being carnivorous, in the interests of sport, since its males identified the good life with the depriving of other creatures of life, or in those of vanity, since its females sought to increase their sexual attractiveness by wearing about their persons the skins and heads of dead animals. So destructive were the Hominidae, that they would speedily have succeeded in denuding the whole planet of other forms of life, were it not that their attention was distracted and their energies wasted by their internecine feuds upon which their quarrelsome nature led them to indulge among themselves. The domination of the Hominidae was finally terminated by their discovery of how to release the forces locked up in the atom, a discovery which they speedily used for the purpose of exterminating themselves altogether. The destruction of this noxious species by virtue of their own unaided mischievousness has always been acclaimed by Martian theologians as affording one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the providential government of the universe.”

If this fate is to be avoided, we must, I repeat, learn to discover some method of putting an end to the present anarchy of competing and conflicting sovereign States. How is this to be done. There are, broadly speaking, two methods.

The Two Methods: (1) The World Domination of a Single Power.

The first is by the world domination of a single power. If one power were to become sufficiently strong to reduce all the others to subjection, the world would no doubt enjoy such peace as obtained under the Roman Empire. It is even possible that the circumstance. that modern civilization is nearly world-wide in it,, scope and may shortly be universal – the world, as I have already pointed out, is already, from the economic standpoint, a single unit, and standardized mass production, standardized creation-saving amusements, the radio, the telephone, the cinema, the motorbus, are spreading a common way of life and common standards of value over large areas of the world, so that a visitor to this planet a hundred years hence may well find life in Baghdad indistinguishable from life in Balham – it is even possible, I say, that this circumstance may prove to be an important factor in enabling the political domination of a single power to become world-wide.

Such a system would, it must be admitted, be infinitely superior to the existing international anarchy. I doubt, however, whether it would be lasting, (except only in the contingency mentioned on the next page) and for two reasons. (i) So long as the doctrine of absolute State sovereignty survived, each State that was brought under the rule of the dominant State would regard its subjection as a disgrace, and would bide its time until it believed itself to have found a suitable opportunity, in combination with other subject States, for throwing off the yoke. Thus the rule of the dominant State would be at best precarious, and its government, aware of the latent disaffection among subject nations, would be forced to maintain a prodigious armament in order to keep them in subjection. Ultimately, it would be caught off its guard, revolt would break out, and the world would again be plunged into a series of wars. It is significant that no great Power has ever succeeded in maintaining an empire for more than a certain length of time. The fact that, under modern circumstances, the empire might well become world-wide, would, I think, diminish the dangers with which the imperial power would be faced, but it would not remove them.

(ii) It is probable that, especially at first, the government of the dominant Power would be forced to adopt a policy of repression. It would be necessary, for example, to repress all propaganda in favour of a return to the era of independent national States, and there would be the usual restrictions upon, liberty of speech and writing. Would men tolerate indefinitely this curtailment of their liberties? I do not know. Upon the answer to this question the future of our species for a long time to come largely turns. If the answer is in the affirmative, we may expect the ultimate establishment of a society of reasonably contented Robots, such as is envisaged in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Such a society, however profoundly the surviving free minds of to-day may feel repelled by the prospect, would at least be a peaceful one, and on this basis the rule of a single dominant Power might ultimately become permanent.

It may well be that this is the most probable of all the foreseeable futures that await mankind.

If the answer is in the negative, the régime would, sooner or later, be faced with disaffection from within. For the reasons given in an earlier chapter, the rule of the dominant Power would, when challenged by disaffection, become more repressive and not less. The greater repression would provoke more disaffection which might at last break out into open revolt. For these reasons, I doubt if a permanent solution of the existing international anarchy will be found in the domination of a single State, except on the assumption that man’s future condition is that of a social automaton

The Two Methods: (2) The Establishment of an International Government.

The second method of ending the present anarchy to build up some form of federal organization leading, ultimately to the establishment of a super-national State

It is difficult, as one surveys the course of evolution, to believe that the national State will be permanent, or that it will constitute the last word in the organization of mankind. On the contrary, there is every reason to suppose that the process which has evolved the national State will drive forward until it finds expression in a wider form of organization.

Evolution Through and Beyond the State.

The advance of evolution, as Dr. Langdon Brown pointed out at a recent meeting of the British Association, is effected by increasing not the size of the cell or of the individual, but of the unit of organization. Evolution, in fact, is a process by which ever more numerous and diverse units are integrated into ever richer and more comprehensive wholes. The earliest forms of life are unicellular. As advance takes place when numbers of unicellular units come together to constitute an individual who is a colony of cells. At a very early stage in the evolution of vertebrate mammals individual joins with individual to constitute the family. At an early stage in the evolution of human beings family integrates with family to form a larger whole, the tribe; later, tribe joins with tribe to constitute a whole yet larger, the Nation-State.

Thus in the history of England, the men of Dover are superseded by the men of Kent, the men of Kent by the men of Wessex, the men of Wessex by the men of Southern England, the men of Southern England by the men of England, the men of England by the inhabitants of the British Isles.

Desire for security appears to have been the form in which the drive of life has chiefly expressed itself to effect these later integrations. Security was the motive which led to the alliance of king and people against the feudal nobility, as a result of which the Nation-State was established in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. It is something of an historical accident that the tendency to larger integration inspired by this motive has not already proceeded to its logical conclusion in the construction of a world State. Rome nearly succeeded in paving the way for this further integration, and there have been the beginnings of other attempts. But always hitherto the factors which make for perpetuation at the existing level of the unit of integration actually reached, have proved too strong for the drive of evolution in the direction of this further integration. For, whatever the unit which at any particular level of the evolutionary process happens to have been attained, whether family, tribe, or Nation-State, it becomes the focus of a number of influential human sentiments. Patriotism and enthusiasm are evoked on its behalf, self-sacrifice in its service, pugnacity in its defence, jealousy for its honour. These sentiments combine to resist its absorption into a larger unit, and such absorption has been achieved in the past only at an appalling price in terms of human suffering. Nevertheless, it cannot, I think, be reasonably doubted that a further stage of integration lies before mankind, and that State must eventually combine with State to constitute the final unit of integration, which is World-State. This step will have to be taken sooner or later by our civilization if it is to survive, and it must involve the surrender of the claims to sovereignty and absoluteness by the Nation-State.

C E M Joad was Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck College, and a prominent public intellectual of his day. He was also a member of Federal Union and wrote widely on the problems of peace and war. “Why War?”, from which this extract was taken, was published as a Penguin Special in 1939.

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