P.-J. Proudhon, “War and Peace,” Volume II










Pacis imponers morem.



THESIS. — War, according to its partisans, primitive form of justice with its basis in nature and consciousness, is susceptible to reform. The abuse that sullies it is no more an argument against it than the aberrations of love, paternity or heredity establish a legitimate prejudice against the family and marriage. The jurisdiction of force is indestructible; it is necessary and must be improved not suppressed, and that suppression would be an attack on humanity, the negation of public right and the right of nations, a nonsensical notion. That reform of war is that much more plausible since, with regard to pauperism, the very fact that has caused the depravity, we can, without hurling ourselves into any economic utopia, replace the arbitrary extortions of the victor by fair compensations, which the laws of war fully authorize in their most severe interpretation and which cannot give rise to recrimination or hatred. Such is, in substance, the affirmative opinion on the question of the reformability of war.

Response. — The adversaries of militarism respond, first, that this project of reform does not destroy the primary cause of war, which always leaves an odious suspicion regarding its motives; second, that while admitting that war will be waged in the future for purely political reasons, without any mixture of shameful cupidity, that, as a result it can be reformed in every aspect that concerns tactics, the loyalty of the conflicts, respect for persons and property, etc., there will still remain that delicate question of the liquidation of costs and indemnities. Now, by right, no compensation is due for the very fact of war; it is only due for offenses committed against the laws of war; in fact, if the indemnities to be demanded were to represent the totality of the victor’s expenses, they would be exorbitant and would be resolved by total spoliation. So war remains stamped with a contradiction, not to say an indelible indignity; and it is the reproach of cupidity and of bad faith that the belligerent parties never fail to address to one another that, far from admitting the possibility of a reform of war, tends to corrupt it more and more, and make it, in any event, mutually unjust. Historical testimonies; hypocrisy of the official motives.

To extricate ourselves from the difficulty we observe: 1) That the question posed by war is complex and must be divided; 2) that the economic question must be dealt with before the political question; 3) that in economic matters the jurisdiction of war is incompetent. Only one resolution remains to be made: to suspend hostilities and, appealing to public reason, to organize humanitary antagonism on other bases. In this sense only, peace, an active, emulative peace, where the forces reproduce through combat, and where the right of force finds full and complete satisfaction, peace is the logical conclusion of the warlike evolution of humanity. It is for the right of nations, for political economy and for the diplomatic history of nations to say if and how it is appropriate from now on to make this conclusions of analysis pass into the realm of fact and serve as a prelude to the universal pacification.




Phenomenality of war. — War is the most profound and most sublime phenomenon of our moral life. No other can be compared to it: neither the imposing celebration of worship, nor the acts of sovereign power, nor the gigantic creations of industry. It is war that strikes the most powerful note in the harmonies of nature and of humanity; it works on the soul like the roar of thunder, like the voice of the hurricane. A mix of genius and audacity, poetry and passion, supreme justice and tragic heroism, even after the analysis that we have made of it and the censure with which we have stamped it, its majesty astonishes us, and the more we reflect upon it, the more the enthusiastic our hearts become for it. War, in which a false philosophy and an even more false philanthropy showed us only a horrible scourge, the explosion of our innate viciousness and the manifestation of celestial rage; war is the most incorruptible expression of our conscience, the act that, conclusively and despite the impure influence is mixed there, is the greatest credit to us before the creation and before the Eternal.

Idea of war. — The idea of war is equal to its phenomenality. It is one of those ideas that, from the first instant that they appear, fills the understanding, becomes more marked, so to speak, in every intuition, in every sentiment, and that by reason of their universality logic calls categories. War, indeed, one and triple like God, is the gathering in a single nature of these three radicals: force, principle of movement and life, which one recognizes in the idea of cause, soul, will, liberty and mind; antagonism, action-reaction, universal law of the world, and like force one of the twelve categories of Kant; justice, sovereign faculty of the soul, principle of our practical reason, which manifests itself in nature in equilibrium.

Object of war. — If, from the phenomenality and idea of war, we pass to its object, it will lose none of our admiration. The aim of war, its role in humanity, is to give motion to all the human faculties, by creating there at the center and above these human faculties, right, to universalize it, and, and with the aid of that universalization of right, to define and to launch society.

But what is right?

It is here that war, sublime in its manifestations, universal in its idea, juridical and consequently providential in its mission, will amaze us still more by the certainty, and, if you will allow me the term, by the positivism of its teaching.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 1895 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.