Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 5

All of these doctrines [which argue, following Hegel, that because conflict between states is inevitable, the ‘moral health’ of the state requires war], taken in their practical sense as exhortations to the pursuit of war as something intrinsically valuable, are sophistical. All alike are based on confusing the general notion of conflict or struggle with that special kind of conflict or struggle which is property called by the name of war. It is certainly true that there can be no life or spiritual life (moral or economic or political), without a constant overcoming of obstacles; and that these obstacle very often exist through the actions of other living beings, pursing in their own way ends similar to one’ own. In that case the overcoming of difficulties becomes a victory over opponents. But there are many kinds of victory, beside that wince is won by means of bullets and bayonets and poison gas; and a philosophical demonstration of the necessity of conflict for life itself has no bearing on the necessity of conflict waged by those peculiar means. 
            Confusions like this do not happen without a cause. The underlying motive of this confusion is the recognition of a hard fact, whose reality cannot be cancelled by removing the confusion of thought: the fact that war has got out of hand and, from being an instrument of policy, has become what psychologists call a compulsion, something that we do blindly and madly. Why has this happened? Not merely because science has put into our hands engines of destruction, which we cannot prevent ourselves from using, though that is true; but, at bottom, as Hegel saw, because of our political system, with its double insistence on the individuality and sovereignty of the state. Militarism is sovereignty conceived in terms of individuality: the absolute and unlimited power of the state in all that affects its own concerns, combined with its merely external relation to all other states. 
            This conception of the state is not new. What is new is the power which modern science has given to us of working out its implications in practice.  . . . [W]e have brought ourselves to the position I have tried to describe: the position of a civilization able scientifically to destroy itself, and unable to hold its hand from doing so. [316-317] 
. . . . 
            The only remedy is to revise our conception of the state. Any proposal for such revision will at once encounter the objection that the root of war is a combative instinct inherent in human nature. This, once more, is sophistry. Conflict, I repeat, is a condition of all life: but conflict and war are not the same thing, and the combative instinct, if there is such an instinct, no more entails the national use of battleships and bombing aeroplanes than it entails the private use of rapiers and daggers on the street. We must turn, then, from the consideration 0f modern war to the consideration of modern politics. [[316-317]


  1. The glorification of the State was one of Hegel's more unfortunate legacies. This train of thought becomes quite apparent in twentieth-century fascism. It is exacerbated by the increased potency of warfare, and therefore the increased threat to one state by another (and now non-state actors pose an increasing threat). We enter into a perpetual arms race to keep the state intact to pursue the arms race, and so on ad infinitum. Arms control treaties put some break on this tendency, but they been band-aid solutions an endemic problem. 
  2. Collingwood is correct that life entails conflict and struggle. Life, including that of any individual or state (or any other organization), is one long pas de deux between conformity with--and control of--the environment, and the environment includes powers intentional (such as the Other) and impersonal (such as hurricanes). But unlike a ballet, the dancers are often at odds, not cooperating. (Cooperation is all too rare, yet it's the secret ingredient of every successful human endeavor.) 
  3. We observe the militarist attitude more often on the Right than on the Left, although both ends of the political spectrum can manifest this trait. Indeed, one may argue that militarism is native to the Right. The Right (and I mean the reactionary right, or what is now the 'alt-right') we may label the bastard child of the Enlightenment, while Left (which by this measure includes some self-labeled conservatives or traditional liberals) may be seen as the rightful heirs of the Enlightenment who can become infected with the taint of violence. (For instance, the Terror of the French Revolution: child of the Right or the Left, of Enlightenment or Reaction? (A great essay question for another time.) 
  4. In wide swaths of the U.S., we have now legalized weaponry on the street, to what practical end I know not, but perhaps this represents to the militarization of U.S. society. I'd rather we go with swords and daggers; nasty enough, but with more of a challenge and certainly less of a kill rate. But then the NRA wouldn't approve of such a scheme, and they call the tune in Congress.