Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice."
- Baruch Spinoza, in Theological-Political Treatise (1670)
My own ideas that were raised by the quote:
On the other hand war is the absence of benevolence, confidence and justice. War as we define it is initialed by some nation or some more unofficial actor. They need to think that they can get something with the aid of violence that they believe that they can not have with other means.
However, wars and all armies have their origins in the raids of early humans that aimed to steal the food or other property of their neighbors. This is one reason why all military historians like to dwell only in the armies of the recorded history. Armed stealing from the neighbors just seem to be much more acceptable to us when they are used by a state.
Most people quite consistently seem the think that states have the extraordinary right to use violence as they please. They do not see it inconsistent that individual members of that same state are not allowed to use violence under any normal circumstances.
However, the first wars between the first states were also just organized stealing and plundering. The goal of subjugating victims to one’s continued rule did give these endeavors a new kind aura of respectability. Outright stealing and plundering would not have similar respect in our eyes.
The first real wars between organized states were quite probably fought between the city states around Mesopotamia and in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. The aim of these wars was to make more people pay taxes for a ruler. In fact, the money collected was for the most part just regular protections money.
The new tax-payers did mostly get in return just the privilege of gaining protection from other rulers. The neighboring rulers were eager to collect a larger amount of tax-payers to pay for the lavish life-style of the small ruling class. In fact, ordinary people paid for an army that was needed mostly to keep other tax-collectors away.
Grim reality is that all armed forces of today are descendants of these thuggish mercenaries. These thugs fought other similar bands of mercenaries for the right to collect money from ordinary unarmed people in return of a favor of not killing them.
It is quite understandable that the admirers of war and warfare do not want to dwell in these unpleasant facts. They like to speak even of these armies as they would have been on some kind of mission for the defense of 'fatherland'.
It is so easy to forget that these first city-states were quite artificial constructions. This is of course the case with most of the later states and ‘nations’ until the rise of the modern nation-states that were based on a common language.
Naturally also nation-states are products of a human ideas and ideology. However, sharing at least a common language gives a state much added credibility in our eyes. A nation state just feels real to us. It is not based on purely imaginary things as so many states were earlier in history. Quite abstract ideas like religion, monarchy or accidents of geography were used as means to divide the earth between different state-formations for millenniums on end.
It is also quite easy to forget that the main aim of Roman legions for spreading out through the Mediterranean was just large-scale robbery and plunder. Every new Roman conquest was always directed to areas which promised treasures to be robbed for the conquerors. Romans did fight also for their own survival too when they fought with the the Carthaginians or early Celts. They got much of their lands also as spoils of victories of these defensive wars.
However, most of the Roman empire was built when individual leaders commissioned armies to rob and plunder fertile areas. Vast fortunes were amassed in this process, which also did bring large new areas under Roman control.
In fact, even the medieval states were mostly just mechanisms for collecting protection money and keeping other protection-collectors away from one’s turf. The medieval states did carry little responsibility towards the people under their rule. However, the ruled had the responsibility to pay in full for the upkeep of the armies that were used to keep them subjugated.
The medieval wars were still fought either for the right to tax new people or for keeping neighboring rulers from stealing old tax-payers away. For the people themselves the outcomes of these endless, quite unnecessary and pointless turf-wars were mostly extremely insignificant. Normally only people who were collecting the taxes were replaced with new ones.
Only in the modern times the idea of a state as a provider for its citizens did arise, also because the extraordinary rise in wealth did generate means for providing them. In the modern nation states that were mostly based on common language (even if not always) the states gained real functions. These new functions did really benefit the subject. They also differed from nation to nation so that there was soon real reasons for the population also to fight for their state.
Before that there were also commercial interests at stake. However, wars were mostly about who would get the right to tax people living in a certain area. Philosopher Bertrand Russell did think that even the first World War was originally just about owning (and taxing) certain small areas of land. It was not started to protect or further any kind of higher principles.
Germany had a democratically elected parliament with a sizable social-democratic portion at that. Bertrand Russell suggest that if Germans had beaten the French and Russians in the summer of 1914, not much would have changed in the world in the end.
However, millions and millions of people would not have lost their lives in pointless slaughter in the trenches. Well-educated and intelligent people often think that keeping and paying for large armies is an unavoidable part of life. They see that the need to protect one's own nation form unruly and aggressive neighbors will be always there.
Extremely rarely anybody even thinks of the ways how one could cure or even tame the the unruliness and aggressiveness found in ones neighbors. It is as if there would be an international consensus for stating that it is impossible to stop wars and unruly and aggressive neighbors just always will be there.
There just might be so much vested interests in keeping up the war-machinery that the systems for keeping people from not doubting it has been perfected a long time ago. The claims that are used to justify this system are learned like religion in an early age. Many people never gain the ability to look at them critically. This is unfortunately all too often the case with religions also.
Very few people dare even dream about universal mechanisms that would make the unruly and aggressive nations not to attack their neighbors. Now almost all nations use a large part of their income for the upkeep large standing armies. They often do it just because of the faint possibility that unruly and aggressive nations will emerge some day.
At the same time most people are quite willing to discuss all the possible mean to curb violence inside the society. This is the case, even if the violence between nations does cause much more sorrow and grief, when and if it is let loose.
(This piece was refurbished at 14th of December, 2012)
"Baruch de Spinoza (November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. By laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. His magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes' mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy's most important contributors. Spinoza was raised in the Dutch Jewish community. In time he developed highly controversial ideas regarding the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. The Jewish religious authorities issued a cherem (a kind of excommunication) against him, effectively dismissing him from Jewish society at age 23. His books were also later put on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books."