“Wars (in Augustine’s view) are inevitable as long as men and their societies are moved by avarice, greed and lust for power, the permanent drives of sinful men. It is, therefore, self-delusion and folly to expect a time will ever come in this world when wars will cease.…” –Herbert Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine, 1963.[1]

I.

Throughout history on any given day, some place in the world wars/conflicts of different sizes and intensities are beginning, continuing. Or ending. On Mindanao, the Filipino Army just retook the town of Marawi from ISIS forces. Between 2007 and 2017 some two hundred and thirty conflicts of various sorts took place in twenty-nine countries, mainly in the Mid-East and Africa. No major (or minor) city in the world is now free from brutal, systematic attacks on its citizens.

In addition to its formidable military might, China strives also to become a naval power. Then, following the Indians and Pakistani, we have the North Koreans and the Iranians with their bombs. Nuclear powers seek to deter each other. Kurds, against the will of the Turks, want their own state as to the Catalonians and perhaps even the Scots and the Basques.

In this context, we often hear of urgent pleas and solemn efforts by political, religious, and cultural figures to “abolish” war. At the United Nations in 1965, Paul VI urged: “No more war, ever again!” But if it is possible to eliminate war, is it really advisable? What are the chances of getting something much worse? Indeed, are we free to imagine something worse?

When Woodrow Wilson was up for reelection in 1916, he ran on a platform promising to keep the United States out of the European war. He didn’t, Both the League of Nations and the United Nations were set up to make war unnecessary. Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938 promised “Peace in our time.” The Empires of Alexander and of the Romans were designed to eliminate war within their boundaries, as was China’s Middle Kingdom.

The Qur’an promises peace throughout the world once all the people on the planet submit to Allah. The Marxists always thought that they were working for a world without war. Kant in 1795 wrote a famous essay on “Perpetual Peace”. A “World Without War Council” was founded in the 1950’s with present headquarters in Berkeley, California. The Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace devotes much time to the elimination of war.

The premise behind these noble proposals is that war is the cause, not the result, of most world problems. Therefore, to resolve most practical issues like poverty, injustice, and sickness, we must first abolish war. We presume that the elimination of war will enable everything else to go well. The worrisome question is: “Will it?”

The year 2018 is the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I. That war was billed as the “War to end all wars.” The most obvious thing that can be said about this famous hope of those who fought “The Great War” is: “It didn’t.” One wonders: Are the many endeavors to end wars not themselves one of the reasons why they do not end? How so?

In Matthew (24:6), we find the famous reminder passage about “wars and rumors” of wars. They will always be with us. This passage is not so much a prophecy or a dogma. It is rather a shrewd statement of practical observation based on other, deeper, issues of human nature. These issues, though including them, transcend ethics and politics.

It is certainly true that, since the passage in Matthew was written, and going back earlier to Thucydides, to Troy, and before, we see no sign that wars have ceased or are about to come to an end.

Augustine held that the “permanent drives of sinful men” were the central issue. Such drives appear and reappear perhaps more in peace than in war.

Paradoxically, as Chesterton once remarked, riches and well-being are more dangerous spiritually than poverty and suffering. Men do not sin because of wars so that, to abolish sin, all we needed to do is to rid ourselves of war. Moreover, many wars have been fought for just causes such that the world would have been far worse without them.

In this reflection, I wish to add a corollary to this thesis that getting rid of war is the key to what is called “world peace”. This is an opinion. It reads as follows: “A world without war is a much more dangerous place than a world with war.” Does that include “the bomb”? Briefly, yes.

The essential point I want to make is: A world without war is, in practice, much most likely to be a politically controlled, absolutist society, even if it is called “democratic”, than a place of “perpetual peace”.

In this approach, I take my lead from Aristotle who warned that huge empire or a world-state would need to be governed by a “divine mind” for it to succeed, such are its complexities. This “divine” mind is unavailable to human societies, however large. Fallible human minds become substituted for divine minds in practice.

Thus, it is far better for the world to be composed of a wide multiplicity of smaller, sovereign political units. Each of these is to have its own frontiers to protect its way of life from dangers coming from the outside and to foster a more attainable good inside.

This view will require individual states to protect themselves and to possess the means to do so. Once we deny military power to these smaller units to concentrate it all on some Hobbesian world-state force, it becomes impossible to resist the forces that will control the mind of the world-state that will in fact most probably come forth.

II.

What will be the ideas that rule a quasi-divine world-state that claims full authority and force over the whole world population? First of all, it would admit no authority in any sphere, temporal or spiritual, higher than itself. This means that no natural or revelational criteria can legally or morally overturn the decisions of the world-state.

No appeal could be lodged against it for arms to protect one’s own way of life. Only revolts of the palace guards within the ruling class about the location of this power would be possible. Any questioning of this absolute authority would be looked upon and treated as treason against mankind.

Secondly, the world-state without war would claim and possess a monopoly of military, police, and judicial power. The citizens of the world would be disarmed precisely to prevent any opposition to centralized rule. Nor would there be any center from which to lodge an armed defense of one’s home, land, or way of life.

Aristotle’s admonitions that all private things would be known to the public authority would be in effect. No private friendships independent of the public authority would be allowed.

Thirdly, people will be without local roots. Diversity will be deliberately designed to mix all different types together. There will be no state or nation as we know them that combined peoples of like heritage and custom. A diversity mixture would prevent any communality of purpose.

Our neighbors would always be strangers. Everything will be administered or bureaucratized by a self-perpetuating elite.   

Fourthly, ecology and population control will be all-embracing and constitute the central justification for moral and political control of human population. The supposed limitation of natural resources will justify the reduction of population to two or three billion inhabitants on the planet.

Abortion and euthanasia in many ways are already in place. They will be mandated civil “rights”. Begetting and sex will be so separated that children will be products of state policy. They will be guided by the state educational apparatus from their conception.

Fifthly, families are seen to be dangerous—a view that goes all the way back to Book Five of Plato’s Republic. We may not even need them, once techniques are further developed to by-pass the need of the womb of a given woman.

III.

Estimates of available world resources will themselves be adjusted to support the control norms of the world-state. Any counter theories about the adequacy of the human mind and enterprise to meet mankind’s requirements will be disallowed.

The purpose of mankind itself will be formulated in collective, not individual, terms. This purpose, designed to eliminate any thought of a transcendent purpose for individual human persons, is to keep some human life on this planet as long as possible. This presumption becomes the basis of all ethical and political activity. Does this action or does it not provide for the human race down the future ages?

Human life will be limited to about eighty years provided it is healthy. After this age mandatory euthanasia will be in place. Suffering will be considered to be the great evil. Its elimination is the moral justification for policies of full control over all aspects of human life.

A common world religion will be founded. All religions must belong to it. A World Parliament of Religion, itself under the control and authority of the world-state, will rule religious doctrines and practices in the light of these goals. Though it can have different rituals from place to place, every religion’s basic doctrine will be the same generalized ecological humanism.

Wars of religion, along with all other wars, will have no purpose. Religion’s central doctrine will be Rousseau’s principle that everyone gives himself the same law that is established by the central authority. In this world, everyone will be brothers and absolutely equal.

The universities will provide “rational” support to this noble vision of world unity and progress. Freedom of thought and speech will consist essentially in following what it commanded, now seen as the only “reasonable” alternative for mankind. Dissent will be treated as a psychological aberration. There will be no sins or crimes, only deranged people, and few of these.

In this context, in examining what is most likely to be the set-up of any world without war, we can begin to see why a world in which war is not abolished may be a far more human and safe alternative. The ability to protect many places, states, where this absolutist vision does not hold constitutes a better world for humanity.

In the world today, all the planning necessary for a world without war are in place in most powerful countries. They govern and inspire the vision of a world in which movements and forces that could oppose this world human brotherhood are eliminated.

The description of such a world no longer needs to come from Mary Shelley, Huxley, Orwell, Benson, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, or even Plato, They are the “progressive” ideas of our time heard in one way or another on nightly television or university classrooms in most nations. They are already mostly in power in what were once called “democratic” states.

When Augustine reminded us that the world is not likely to see a world without war, he was not unmindful of a more diabolically inspired “City of Man” in which all that was contrary to any real human good was established in power.

Indeed, to conclude, it is as I suspected in the beginning. A world without war is a much more dangerous place for mankind than one with its possibility wherein what is at least true can be defended, by arms if necessary. In either case, the world we live in is a dangerous place. This is probably why we were not created to find our final happiness in it.

Rev. James V. Schall SJ taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of numerous books.


[1] Herbert Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine (New York: Columbia University Press 1963), 155.

Rev. James V. Schall SJ taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of numerous books.