Monthly Archives: November 2014

An old idea

War as an idea is going the way of slavery and is becoming obsolete, according to John Mueller, Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University. In his book, The Remnants of War, Mueller contends that, though it was a common human behavior at one time, war’s appeal and efficacy have long been in significant decline.

For centuries, Mueller says, there was an “enthusiasm” for war even among civilized men—French social scientist Alexis de Tocqueville observed that “war almost always enlarges the mind of a people and raises their character”—and he points out that “the notion that war is a bad idea and ought to be abolished is not much more than a century old.” But anti-war sentiment first became a movement with the publication of Austrian Bertha von Suttner’s novel, Lay Down Your Arms! in 1889, and the attitudes of many toward war were profoundly changed after the First World War when “few remained to be convinced that such a war must never happen again.”

Mueller suggests multiple reasons for the increasing aversion to war since then:

  • An improving quality of life for more people provides more incentive not to engage in conflict.
  • The expanded presence of democracy reduces the number of oligarchs who tend to initiate conflicts.
  • An increasing number of international norms and institutions lobby against conflict between states.
  • Increasingly destructive technology raises the human (particularly civilian) cost of conflict and reduces the likelihood of meaningful “victory.”

The instances of civil war that persist tend to be consequences of weak and ineffectual government, according to Mueller. He believes, therefore, that the solution is better government, more able to deal with internal conflicts that arise and less likely to strike out and initiate interstate war as a means to an end.

As Stephen Pinker has shown, our world is less violent today than at any time in human history. Mueller adds specifically his reasons that men are less likely to wage war today to achieve their objectives. These achievements are worthy of celebration and undermine attempts to use fear as a reason for imposing limits to liberty in our society.

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Filed under History, Policy, The Book I Read