William Edward Hartpole Lecky
History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe
There can, I think, be little doubt that there is a tendency in civilisation to approximate towards the ideal of the French philosophers. It can hardly be questioned that the advance of intellectual culture produces a decline of the military spirit, and that the cohesion resulting from a community of principles and intellectual tendencies is rapidly superseding artificial political combinations. But at the same time it is no less certain that the bond of intellectual sympathy alone is far too weak to restrain the action of colliding passions, and it was reserved for political economy to supply a stronger and more permanent principle of unity.
This principle is an enlightened self-interest. Formerly, as I have said, the interests of nations were supposed to be diametrically opposed. The wealth that was added to one was necessarily taken from another; and all commerce was a kind of balance, in which a gain on one side implied a corresponding loss on the opposite one. Every blow that was struck to the prosperity of one nation was of advantage to the rest, for it diminished the number of those among whom the wealth of the world was to be divided. Religion might indeed interpose and tell men that they ought not to rejoice in the misfortunes of others, and that they should subordinate their interests to higher considerations; but still each people, as far as it followed its selfish interests, was hostile to its neighbour; and even in the best ages the guiding principles of large bodies of men are almost always selfish. Independently of the many wars that were directly occasioned by a desire to alter commercial relations, there was a constant smouldering ill-feeling created by the sense of habitual antagonism, which the slightest difference kindled into a flame.
For this great evil political economy is the only corrective. It teaches, in the first place, that the notion that a commercial nation can only prosper by the loss of its neighbour, is essentially false. It teaches still further that each nation has a direct interest in the prosperity of that with which it trades, just as a shopman has an interest in the wealth of his customers. It teaches too that the different markets of the world are so closely connected, that it is quite impossible for a serious derangement to take place in any one of them without its evil effects vibrating through all; and that, in the present condition of Europe, commercial ties are so numerous, and the interests of nations so closely interwoven, that war is usually an evil even to the victor. Each successive development of political economy has brought these truths into clearer relief, and in proportion to their diffusion must be the antipathy to war; the desire to restrict it, when it does break out, as far as possible to those who are actually engaged; and the hostility to all who have provoked it. Every fresh commercial enterprise is therefore an additional guarantee of peace.
I know that, in the present day, when Europe is suffering to an almost unexampled extent from the disquietude resulting from the conflict between opposing principles and unequal civilisations, speculations of this kind must appear to many unreal and utopian. Most assuredly, as long as nations tolerate monarchs who, resting upon the traditions of an effete theocracy, regard their authority as of divine right, and esteem it their main duty to arrest by force the political developments of civilisation, so long must standing armies and wars of opinion continue. Nor would the most sanguine political economist venture to predict a time in which the sword would be altogether unknown. The explosions of passion are not always restrained by the most evident ties of interest; exceptional circumstances counteract general tendencies; and commerce, which links civilised communities in a bond of unity, has ever forced her way among barbarians by bloodshed and by tyranny. But in order to justify the prospect of a great and profound change in the relations of European nations, it is only necessary to make two postulates. The first is, that the industrial element, which, in spite of legislative restrictions and military perturbations, is advancing every year with accelerated rapidity, is destined one day to become the dominant influence in politics. The second is, that those principles of political economy which are now acknowledged to be true by everyone who has studied them, will one day be realised as axioms by the masses. Amid the complications and elaborations of civilisation, the deranging influence of passion, whether for good or for evil, becomes continually less, and interest becomes more and more the guiding influence, not perhaps of individuals, but of communities. In proportion to the commercial and industrial advancement of a nation, its interests become favourable to peace, and the love of war is in consequence diminished. When therefore the different states of Europe are closely interwoven by commercial interests, when the classes who represent those interests have become the guiding power of the state, and when they are fully penetrated with the truth that war in any quarter is detrimental to their prosperity, a guarantee for the peace of Europe will have been attained, if not perfect, at least far stronger than any which either religion or philanthropy has yet realised. In such a condition of commercial activity, and in such a condition of public knowledge, a political transformation would necessarily ensue, and the principal causes of present perturbations would be eliminated. At the same time two kindred movements which I have already noticed—the recognition of the principle of the rights of nationalities as the basis of political morality, and the growing ascendency of intellectual pursuits diminishing the admiration of military glory—would consolidate the interests of peace. Many years must undoubtedly elapse before such a condition of society can be attained torrents of blood must yet be shed before the political obstacles shall have been removed, before the nationalities which are still writhing beneath a foreign yoke shall have been relieved, and before advancing knowledge shall have finally destroyed those theological doctrines concerning the relations between sovereigns and nations which are the basis of many of the worst tyrannies that are cursing mankind; but as surely as civilization advances, so surely must the triumph come. Liberty, industry, and peace are in modern societies indissolubly connected, and their ultimate ascendency depends upon a movement which may be retarded, but cannot possibly be arrested.
It should be observed, too, that while the nations which are most devoted to industrial enterprise are the most wealthy and the most pacific, they are also, as a general rule, those which are most likely to wield the greatest power in war. This, as Adam Smith has acutely observed, is one of the most important differences between ancient and modern societies. Formerly, when war depended almost entirely upon unaided valour, the military position of a rich nation was usually unfavourable; for while its wealth enervated its character and attracted the cupidity of its neighbours, it did not in the hour of strife furnish it with advantages at all commensurate with these evils. Hence the ruin of Carthage, Corinth, and Tyre, the great centres of commercial activity among the ancients. Since, however, the invention of gunpowder and the elaboration of military machinery, war has become in a great measure dependent upon mechanical genius, and above all upon financial prosperity, and the tendency of the balance of power is therefore to incline steadily to the nations that are most interested in the preservation of peace.