Philosophy and a century of war

“History is philosophy teaching by example,” said Bolingbroke.

Philosophy has a reputation for being abstract, which it is. Philosophy also has a reputation for being impractical or pointless, which it certainly is not. Here is my nine-minute explanation for why philosophy is life or death.

(Much thanks to Christopher Vaughan for his fine video and graphics work.)

Update: A good comment from David R. Henderson about the Soviet Union in World War II prompts this follow-up.

9 thoughts on “Philosophy and a century of war

  • September 7, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for the feedback and the recommendation, John.

  • September 8, 2013 at 12:20 am


    Very nice!


  • September 8, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Why is Russia missing from WWI? And the USSR is missing from WWII. Why?

  • September 8, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Hi LA:
    About Russia/Soviet Union. Many countries are left off the lists for WWI and WWII. My explanation is in the update to the post, and there’s further discussion at David Henderson’s site, as he raised this question too:
    Maybe I should put up an image, with the Soviets on the German side from 1939-1941 and on the Allied side from 1941-45.

  • September 10, 2013 at 2:20 am

    Watched this. Wonderful, and again, so clear. The Soviet Union’s siding with the Allies was ad hoc tactical only and did not spring from a deeper commonality of values – as was manifested by the decades long Cold War that followed. Though sharing their essential outlook as rival street gangs the Nazis had become an immediate physical threat to the Soviet Union, hence the latter reach out to and forged the alliances it did. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

  • September 10, 2013 at 2:37 am

    Just see now you said exactly the same thing above.

    BTW don’t mean to patronize, but it’s nice to see – particularly in philosophy – someone cut to the chase.

  • September 13, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Prof Hicks deserves praise, as always, for clear analysis. However, he does not understand German culture, art, or the language, nor the national identity. His comparison of Nietzsche vs Nazis is remarkable in that it objectively considers what ideas are relevant, though not always causational in armed conflict. Modern wars depend on finance, and the propagators of modern war are financiers. The foot soldier is duped into thinking he is “fighting for freedom.” Yet, in the Germanic world, freedom is seen as responsibility, and the constraints of German society, whether the Kaiser’s or the Führer’s, are related to self-defense (from France, Russia, Poland, and eventually, England). German were the finest infantry in both wars. Hitler’s failure as a commander was that he thought in WWI terms, despite his eagerness for new ideas, such as rockets, jet fighter-bombers, or panzer armies. Moreover, Hitler was an Austrian of Germanic sympathies. His main motivation in WWII was to avenge the Versailles treaty and to establish German Lebensraum to the East, in the tradition of the Teutonic Knights.

    If one really wishes to understand the underpinnings of his ideology one must read Mein Kampf, which, ironically, agrees with Prof Hicks’ view of war as stimulated by ideas. He proposed a world order of Japan ruling Asia, Germany ruling Europe, the US running North and South America, and Britain retaining her empire : the white man’s burden. This is a political, not philosophical tack. Many people, even Poles, supported the idea of a Thousand Year Reich. However, the foundation of Soviet Russia was the depraved collectivism of Karl Marx, paid to write by the Rothschild family among others. Marx spent most of his life in England. The European bankers of Zionistic verve quickly saw his usefulness to their future profiteering. They had already infiltrated the English system. The entire thrust of Marxism, a cousin of Kant’s and Hegel’s thought, was to establish a godless society ruled by a (still non-existent) proletariat ruled by a ruthless gang of moneylenders. So, Russia, no matter what alliance she made, was the most critical factor in both wars. Indeed, the Russians mobilized to help the Serbs. Prof Hicks is correct is using the term “passive” with her, but it is incomplete. She is passive, as in a bear’s hibernation.

    Fascism is the political reaction and antidote to Marxism/Communism/call it what you will, the rule of scum. Christopher Hitchens correctly brings out that the Roman Catholic Church is its main “backer”, that is, gives it rectitude. The Concordat, anyone? Post war assistance to fugitive Nazis? Spain? Italy? Not possible without the Vatican. The thrust of Fascism is vaguely religious, authoritarian, and “socialistic”, that is, addressing social inequities. But the free market was just as healthy in the Kaiser’s or the Führer’s regimes. So, there is an undercurrent of “Christian” propriety against the atheism always demanded by Marxists or Leninists. The state replaces God, the state replaces free enterprise, the state becomes one’s entire world-view. Behind this lurks the figures of Darwin and Spencer, arguing, “scientifically,” that it should be so.

    The primary cause of both wars, therefore, and in my own ken, is the self-righteous imperialism which built the British fleet, then that of Tirpitz, and the defeat of aristocratic values by this same imperialism, to which it had sold its soul. Empress of India — Victoria?!? The British, via Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, had consented to Germany’s destruction of Russia (knowing that she would gut herself in doing so), at least Ribbentrop thought so. Hess flew the Channel to enforce the deal. Churchill had a different and highly imperial view, which, enigmatically, cost Britain her empire. Not only did his cockamamie plan for Gallipoli kills thousands, he also used poison gas without restrain, after WWI (in supporting the White Russians). America had remained aloof from WWII save that the bedfellows Churchill and Roosevelt both thought in world government terms, such as the Atlantic Charter, and the UN. The greatest possible tyranny is thereby made real. Centralize the power, which only the bankers can do (or money-lenders, usurers, profiteers) behind the scenes. The enlightened philosophies of Locke, Mill, and Smith were mainly domestic in nature, contrary to their high-flung principles. As Ayn Rand taught us, always look for where the payoff is. It sure as hell ain’t on the battlefield!

  • September 14, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Stephen Dahl: The ‘court Jew’ has figured prominently in European history for centuries: favored by elites and often feared and hated by the people (often because of their nobility-assigned role as tax collectors). The Church had banned ‘ursery’ and money lending to Christians, hence this vital economic role fell to the Jews, who roused the ire of many by becoming very good at it.

    I don’t see how the anti-money, anti-property, anti-market Marxian stance would appeal to wealthy money-lenders.

    Re: “Yet, in the Germanic world, freedom is seen as responsibility, and the constraints of German society, whether the Kaiser’s or the Führer’s, are related to self-defense (from France, Russia, Poland, and eventually, England).” Though granted, much of its humiliation was sown by Napoleon a century before, Germany initiated aggressions against these countries, directly or indirectly. Germany had fostered a virulently warlike spirit, which is parasitic of the peacetime virtues that create civilization.

    Fascism and Nazism were not free market. Under modern rightist totalitarian regimes – which sprouted from the same philosophical root as socialism-Marxism (‘Nazi’ of course is a shortened form of the German Nationalsozialismus i.e. National Socialist; Mussolini began as a socialist and was greatly influenced by syndicalism of Marxist’ Georges Sorel) – nominal ownership of private property remained, but economic control was almost as sweeping in the form of an extreme corporatism, with corporate heads becoming in effect production czars at the bidding of the state. “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories?” said Hitler, “We socialize human beings.”

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