by Richard E. Noble
There are basically two philosophical positions with regards to war. The first is the notion that war is part and parcel of the human condition. As with death and taxes, war is an absolute. War is as much a part of the human phenomenon as love, hate and sex.
Within this opinion are two groups. Those who consider that not only is war part of the human condition but that it is a good and positive part that should be encouraged. Both the Greeks and the Romans advocated such a perspective. Heraclitus and Plato with his Republic are good examples of advocates of this position. Some Stoics and the Roman Marcus Aurelius hesitated somewhat on this point of view, along with a Greek playwright here and there. Further down the road we have Frederick the Great, Hegel, Nietzsche, Clausewitz and Adolf Hitler to name a few who continued this perspective.
The second subdivision among the pro-war group, are those that feel that war is a part of the human condition, not necessarily good and positive, but nevertheless necessary and inevitable. In this group we have such historic figures as Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Suarez, Grotius, Sir Thomas More, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, Schopenhauer and even Kant, Locke and Spinoza. Some in this group advocate the necessary and preparatory aspects of holding this position. Others campaign for moderation, control, the rule of law, rules and limits, and even the observance of moral decency.
The second opinion with regards to war is that it is not a part of the human condition. It is not like death but more like cancer or disease. War is an infectious disease blighting mankind. It must be challenged and fought against. With proper concern, care and treatment mankind can eventually be cured of this affliction.
The advocates of this point of view are relatively few and for the most part, recent. One of the earliest would be Jesus Christ. Though he wrote no book explaining his position, his actions along with his recorded message has been speaking out for centuries. But, there are many today who insist in denying to Jesus his long held title as the Prince of Peace.
Desiderius Erasmus believed that the normal condition of man was love, friendship and service to one another, and that war was a blatant transgression to the character of man. Bentham, James Mill and John Stuart Mill were on this side of the argument believing that war was evil and primarily prospered to the good fortune of the rich, wealthy, powerful and professional warrior.
Herbert Spencer suggested that war was the inevitable outcome of “big government”. Cut back on government and encourage individual liberty and the causes of war will disappear, he proposed.
John Dewey wrote that war should be declared illegal and that those who participate should be prosecuted as criminals. This point of view was actually taken up and promoted at the Trials at Nuremburg after World War II. At Nuremberg “aggressive war” was declared to be illegal and subject to prosecution under international law. This was a first for humankind. Never before in the history of humankind had it ever been decided or proclaimed that any sort of war was illegal. Of course this decision was made only by the successful allies of World War II and not the decision of the entire world. There is also the problem of the aggressor being victorious, in which case who is there capable of prosecuting the offender.
Bertrand Russell most recently suggested that war could be prevented by the threat of a nuclear Holocaust. This argument has been pretty much defeated today by the successful limited wars of the post World War II era, and the notion of limited tactical nuclear weapons and controlled warfare for the future.