Friday, September 12, 2008

Can we ever end war?

Some have voiced opinions recently, as have people in generations past, that we ought to be able to end war and just work together for the good of all nations. Some moderns, for example, haven’t given up on the Dohrn idea that we should continue to hope for a better communism with the implication that it will end war and cause people to live together in amity.

Can we ever achieve a form of society where there will be no more war? Fukuyama argued that there would be such a time after “the end of history” were firmed up. Before him Marx envisioned such a time when communism had conquered all other forms of government and society. Hans Morgenthau, on the other hand argues that no such idealistic theory will ever work in practice.

On page 37 of Politics Among Nations, the Struggle for Power and Peace, he writes, “Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, ever larger groups in the Western world have been persuaded that the struggle for power on the international scene is a temporary phenomenon, a historical accident that is bound to disappear once the peculiar historic conditions that have given rise to it have been eliminated. Thus Jeremy Bentham believed that the competition for colonies was at the root of all international conflicts. ‘Emancipate your colonies!’ was his advice to the governments, and international conflict and war would of necessity disappear. Adherents of free trade, such as Cobden and Proudhon were convinced that the removal of trade barriers was the only condition for the establishment of permanent harmony among nations, and might even lead to the disappearance of international politics altogether. ‘At some future election,’ said Cobden, ‘we may probably see the test ‘no foreign politics’ applied to those who offer to become representatives of free constituencies.’ For Marx and his followers, capitalism is at the root of international discord and war. They maintain that international socialism will do away with the struggle for power on the international scene and will bring about permanent peace. During the nineteenth century, liberals everywhere shared the conviction that power politics and war were residues of an obsolete system of government, and that the victory of democracy and constitutional government over absolutism and autocracy would assure the victory of international harmony and permanent peace over power politics and war. Of this liberal school of thought. Woodrow Wilson was the most eloquent and most influential spokesman.”

“In recent times, the conviction that the struggle for power can be eliminated from the international scene has been connected with great attempts at organizing the world, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Thus Cordell Hull, then U.S. Secretary of state, declared in 1943 on his return from the Moscow Conference, which laid the groundwork for the United Nations, that the new international organization would mean the end of power politics and usher in a new era of international collaboration. Mr. Philip Noel-Baker, then British Minister of State, declared in 1946 in the House of Commons that the British government was ‘determined to use the institutions of the United Nations to kill power politics, in order to do that, by the methods of democracy, the will of the people shall prevail.”

An order to argue against Morgenthau’s realistic views, one will have to advance some sort of theory about the improvability of man, and such a theory will involve faith, for there is no evidence in either history or anthropology that man has ever been long at peace with his neighbors in the past. That he might become so in the future is a theory, and if you believe that he will become so then you are exercising faith in that theory.

The current EU predicament is a painful lesson in the truth of Morgenthau’s arguments. The EU thought it was heralding in a new era in which all nations were going to be just like them. “Come join us,” they said in a spirit of joy and exuberation, “and you will enter with us into an era of perpetual peace.” Several of the nations of the former Soviet bloc took advantage of this invitation. “What need have we of a significant military force,” the EU nations thought and did very little to create one (Not everyone in Europe shared in this faith; so military force exist, just not forces capable of dealing with a serious threat). This increase in the EU at the expense of the former Soviet Union took place when Russia was weak. When they became strong, they took offense. Power politics was once again in play.

Morgenthau believed that it is our nature to seek to dominate one another in some form. We all adhere to a pecking order of some sort. Many have made this observation before him. He quotes John of Salisbury (ca. 1115-76) as an example:

“Though it is not given to all men to seize princely or royal power, yet the man who is wholly untainted by tyranny is rare or nonexistent. In common speech the tyrant is one who oppresses a whole people by a rulership based on force; and yet it is not over a people as a whole that a man can play the tyrant, but he can do so if he will even in the meanest station. For if not over the whole body of people, still each man will lord it as far as his power extends.”

By the way, Morgenthau and John of Salisbury offer views of human nature consistent with the Christian view. They describe human nature as it exists, not as they wish it might become. Atheists on the other hand are inclined to hope, even believe with faith that man’s nature is malleable and can be improved if we can create just the right sort of society for him to live in. Rousseau was the great exemplar of this form of wishful thinking.

Lawrence Helm

No comments: