Quotations on militarism in the lead-up to World War I

How culture gets made. At the Library of Social Science, a selection of quotations — philosophers, poets, historians, and other intellectual leaders — on German militarism from Kant’s time to World War I.

For example, who said this?

War itself, if it is carried on with order and with a sacred respect for the rights of citizens, has something sublime in it, and makes the disposition of the people who carry it on thus only the more sublime …

And this:

a long peace generally brings about a predominant commercial spirit and, along with it, low selfishness, cowardice, and effeminacy, and debases the disposition of the people.

The quotations are excerpted from my Nietzsche and the Nazis.

An important historical question: Can one find comparable quotations from, say, American, British, or Australian cultural leaders during the same era?

 

6 thoughts on “Quotations on militarism in the lead-up to World War I

  • January 30, 2017 at 4:33 pm
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    Sure, from Tennyson’s Maud (1855);

    Why do they prate of the blessings of Peace? we have made them a curse,
    Pickpockets, each hand lusting for all that is not its own;
    And lust of gain, in the spirit of Cain, is it better or worse
    Than the heart of the citizen hissing in war on his own hearthstone?

    And in the end, the Crimean War comes and saves Britain from introspection and materialism:

    And it was but a dream, yet it yielded a dear delight
    To have look’d, tho’ but in a dream, upon eyes so fair,
    That had been in a weary world my one thing bright;
    And it was but a dream, yet it lighten’d my despair
    When I thought that a war would arise in defence of the right,
    That an iron tyranny now should bend or cease,
    The glory of manhood stand on his ancient height,
    Nor Britain’s one sole God be the millionaire:
    No more shall commerce be all in all, and Peace
    Pipe on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
    And watch her harvest ripen, her herd increase,
    Nor the cannon-bullet rust on a slothful shore,
    And the cobweb woven across the cannon’s throat
    Shall shake its threaded tears in the wind no more.

    […]

    Let it go or stay, so I wake to the higher aims
    Of a land that has lost for a little her lust of gold,
    And love of a peace that was full of wrongs and shames,
    Horrible, hateful, monstrous, not to be told;
    And hail once more to the banner of battle unroll’d!
    Tho’ many a light shall darken, and many shall weep
    For those that are crush’d in the clash of jarring claims,
    Yet God’s just wrath shall be wreak’d on a giant liar;
    And many a darkness into the light shall leap,
    And shine in the sudden making of splendid names,
    And noble thought be freer under the sun,
    And the heart of a people beat with one desire;
    For the peace, that I deem’d no peace, is over and done,
    And now by the side of the Black and the Baltic deep,
    And deathful-grinning mouths of the fortress, flames
    The blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire.

    Let it flame or fade, and the war roll down like a wind,
    We have proved we have hearts in a cause, we are noble still
    And myself have awaked, as it seems, to the better mind
    It is better to fight for the good, than to rail at the ill;
    I have felt with my native land, I am one with my kind,
    I embrace the purpose of God, and the doom assign’d.

    In the original version, the line, “For the peace, that I deem’d no peace, is over and done,” read instead “for the long, long canker of peace is over and done.”

    “Men resemble their times rather than their fathers.” I think I can drudge up more like this, with a little time.

  • January 31, 2017 at 8:54 pm
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    (continuing)

    From The Crown of the Olive, by John Ruskin, “the leading art critic of the Victorian era”:

    “Peace and the vices of civil life only flourish together. We talk of peace and learning, and of peace and plenty, and of peace and civilization ; but I found that those were not the words which the Muse of History coupled together: that, on her lips, the words were—peace, and sensuality—peace, and selfishness—peace, and death. I found, in brief, that ail great nations learned their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war; that they were nourished in war, and wasted by peace; taught by war, and deceived by peace; trained by war, and betrayed by peace;—in a word, that they were born in war, and expired in peace.”

  • January 31, 2017 at 10:07 pm
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    These, from the same source–I should have noted in the previous comment that these are from a lecture given by Ruskin in 1865, which was then printed in The Crown of the Olive:

    “…all the pure and noble arts of peace are founded on war; no great art ever yet rose on earth, but among a nation of soldiers. There is no art among a shepherd people, if it remains at peace. There is no art among an agricultural people, if it remains at peace. Commerce is barely consistent with fine art ; but cannot produce it. Manufacture not only is unable to produce it, but invariably destroys whatever seeds of it exist. There is no great art possible to a nation but that which is based on battle.”
    […]
    “You are not true soldiers, if you only mean to stand at a shop-door, to protect shop- boys who are cheating inside. A soldier’s vow to his country is that he will die for the guardianship of her domestic virtue, of her righteous laws, and of her any-way challenged or endangered honour. A state without virtue, without laws, and without honour, he is bound not to defend; nay, bound to redress by his own right hand that which he sees to be base in her. So sternly is this the law of Nature and life, that a nation once utterly corrupt can only be redeemed by a military despotism—never by talking, nor by its free effort.”

  • January 31, 2017 at 10:14 pm
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    I should have noted that that was from a lecture given in 1865, which was then published in The Crown of the Olive in 1882. Here’s more from the same source:

    “A soldier’s vow to his country is that he will die for the guardianship of her domestic virtue, of her righteous laws, and of her any-way challenged or endangered honour. A state without virtue, without laws, and without honour, he is bound not to defend ; nay, bound to redress by his own right hand that which he sees to be base in her. So sternly is this the law of Nature and life, that a nation once utterly corrupt can only be redeemed by a military despotism — never by talking, nor by its free effort.”

    “…all the pure and noble arts of peace are founded on war ; no great art ever yet rose on earth, but among a nation of soldiers. There is no art among a shepherd people, if it remains at peace. There is no art among an agricultural people, if it remains at peace. Commerce is barely consistent with fine art ; but cannot produce it. Manufacture not only is unable to produce it, but invariably destroys whatever seeds of it exist. There is no great art possible to a nation but that which is based on battle.”

  • February 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm
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    Nicely-relevant quotations from Ruskin, Unbekannt, and they are new to me. Thanks.

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