Can War Be Eliminated

This is an opinion piece I wrote for a Political Theory class at Loyola University Chicago.

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The link between human life and war is unbreakable; as long as there have been humans, war has continually existed. Merriam Webster defines war as “an organized effort by a government or other large organization to stop or defeat something that is viewed as dangerous or bad.” [1] War’s definition is not obsolete, however. Relating basic human behavior to state action in the proper context of the nature of war reveals the inescapable reality of battle. This then exposes the often hidden characteristics of war, changing its encompassing definition. “To begin a philosophical discussion of war draws one into a long and complex intellectual path of study and continual analysis,” [2] where one must first understand basic human nature and the context of war within the state. The nature of war then reveals the unfortunate reality of its permanence.

Many philosophers debate the true natural state of man. Immanuel Kant argues that “nature guarantees perpetual peace by the actual mechanism of human inclination.” [3] He believes that a solidarity human possesses an authentic peace. He continues, however, stating that men living together endure in a state of war, meaning “the state of peace must be formally instituted, for a suspension of hostilities is not in itself a guarantee of peace.” [4] Kant thus argues that, while men individually remain peaceful, cohabitation welcomes a natural tendency to hostilities.  Hobbes would agree with Kant, stating that “without an external power to impose laws, the state of nature would be one of immanent warfare.”[5]  While the individual interpretations of man’s nature differ between the two philosophers, both agree that the collective coexistence of man naturally promotes war. Peace cannot exist without some form of institution that mediates between the differing desires of men within a collective society.  This unified body of men, the state, then interestingly harbors a tendency for war.

The relationships between different collective bodies of man present many challenges. Michael Walzer even says “that international society as it exists today is a radically imperfect structure.” [6] Volatility and uncertainty arise from the constantly changing few of those who make up a state. War arises simply when one state’s views differ from another or are in conflict so states determine they must act in their best interest. States represent the will of their constituents, desiring to secure their most favorable outcome. This is a point of interest and issue. Rousseau argues that “states must be active (aggressive) otherwise they decline” and because of this, “war is inevitable and any attempts at peaceful federations are futile.” [7] In attempt to refute Rousseau’s view, Kant assumes states are solely motivated by their economic interests. He says that “states find themselves compelled to promote the noble cause of peace…in the spirit of commerce and financial power.” [8] To theorize and assume a state’s genuine motivations, however, would be difficult due to the variation that naturally exists within humanity. Kenneth Waltz argues: “While human nature no doubt plays a role in bringing about war, it cannot by itself explain both war and peace, except by the simple statement that sometimes he fights and sometimes he does not.” [9] Because of this, the solution to eliminating war (if even possible) does not lie in its actors, but in the nature of itself.

War is chaotic, to say the least. While patterns exist, presenting strategies to study and patterns to analyze, every war varies to some degree. Howard Zinn states that “war, by its nature, is unfocused [and] indiscriminate.” [10] No war’s reality can be compared wholly to another. The historical contexts, agency of aggression (weapons, fighting style), motivations for attacks, and conflicting actors prove the complexities of theorizing war. The Peloponnesian war differs immensely from the War of 1812, which exists as a binary to the Afghan War of recent years. Anthony Rapport says that “the main problem is that of recognizing that the war establishments no longer perform the function they may have once performed – that of protecting populations against aggression.”[11] He continues: “the war establishments of the superpowers have been fused into a single war machine; they do not compete, they cooperate in promoting each other’s growth.” [12] Rapport highlights the obvious changing nature of war, but enlightens the reality that now states rely on war for their mere progression. War motivates allies to be stronger, enemies to develop faster, and economies to be more marketable. To break this down, a state must compete through its economy and infrastructure for security on the international stage. The symbiotic relationship between allies dictates that both states have the agency to defend and support the other in times of strife or present danger. The need to remain stronger and more powerful than the enemy welcomes a continuous campaign of increasing arms. Economic dominance, too, demands states to harbor the most mercantile aspirations in order to benefit its citizens. Simply stated, “war resides in the institutions spawned by war, which, in turn, spawn wars.” [13]

Kant understood this reciprocal relationship, saying that “a state of affairs is essentially a state of war.” [14] Therefore, to simply hold sovereignty on the international stage requires a state to exist in constant preparation for, even fear of, war. The nature in which a state exists is war, so can there be a solution to war? As Brian Lehrer states, “there are no preconditions to abolishing war.” [15] This essentially defines the problem with war; the international system cannot exists without it. Lehrer does, however, present an advantageous solution to halt war. He states: “most people who even flirt with the idea conclude that certain things need to happen first: almost all nations need to become democracies, the gap between rich and poor nations must greatly diminish, women must have half the political power in the world.” [16] These requirements might seem achievable to someone overly optimistic, but the actuality of completing these requirements is impossible in the current state of modern state existence.

Due to the reliance of war fueling state adaption and growth, war cannot be eliminated. The constant requirement to defend a state’s citizens and their constantly changing views against another state’s citizens and their changing views welcomes the reality of war.  While the nature of man remains debatable based on context, the nature of the state endures. The sovereign personality does not just welcome war, it needs it. Conflict is natural, and war is conflict in its extreme form, therefore it cannot be eliminated.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “War.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/war.

[2] Moseley, Alexander. The Philosophy of War. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, http://www.iep.utm.edu/.  13 November 2016.

[3] Rosen, Michael, and Jonathan Wolff. 1999. Political Thought.  p. 157-263. Oxford: Oxford University Press p258.

[4] ibid p257

[5] Moseley

[6] Rosen p260

[7] Moseley

[8] Rosen p257

[9] Moseley

[10] Zinn, Howard. 2001.  A Just Cause, Not a Just War. The Progressive. http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/courses01/rrtw/Zinn.html. 12 November 2016.

[11] Rapport, Anthony. 2009. Can Humanity Eliminate War?. Anatol Report: Systems, rationality, and peace. http://www.anatolrapoport.net/node/6. 10 November 2016.

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] Rosen p258

[15] Lehrer, Brian. 25 June 2012. Could we End war, All war? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/25/end-war-brian-lehrer. 10 November 2016

[16] ibid

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