Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
The Probable Perpetuity of Wars
By Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850)
 
From Essays

TAKE the case for example of War—by far the most prolific and extensive pest of the human race, whether we consider the sufferings it inflicts, or the happiness it prevents—and see whether it is likely to be arrested by the progress of intelligence and civilisation. In the first place, it is manifest that instead of becoming less frequent or destructive in proportion to the rapidity of that progress, our European wars have, in point of fact, been incomparably more constant and more sanguinary since Europe became signally enlightened and humanised, and that they have uniformly been most obstinate and most popular in its most polished countries. The brutish Laplanders, and bigoted and profligate Italians, have had long intervals of repose, but France and England are now pretty regularly at war for about fourscore years out of every century. In the second place the lovers and conductors of war are by no means the most ferocious or stupid of their species, but for the most part the very contrary; and their delight in it, notwithstanding their compassion for human suffering, and their complete knowledge of its tendency to produce suffering, seems to us sufficient almost of itself to discredit the confident prediction of those who assure us, that when men have attained to a certain degree of intelligence, war must necessarily cease among all the nations of the earth. There can be no better illustration indeed, than this, of the utter futility of all those dreams of perfectibility which are founded on a radical ignorance of what it is that constitutes the real enjoyment of human nature, and upon the play of how many principles and opposite stimuli that happiness depends, which, it is absurdly imagined, would be found in the mere negation of suffering, or in a state of Quakerish placidity, dulness, and uniformity. Men delight in war in spite of the pains and miseries which they know it entails upon them and their fellows, because it exercises all the talents, and calls out all the energies of their nature; because it holds them out conspicuously as objects of public sentiment and general sympathy; because it gratifies their pride of art, and gives them a lofty sentiment of their own power, worth, and courage; but principally, because it sets the game of existence upon a higher stake, and dispels, by its powerful interest, those feelings of ennui which steal upon every condition from which hazard and anxiety are excluded, and drive us into danger and suffering as a relief. While human nature continues to be distinguished by those attributes, we do not see any chance of war being superseded by the increase of wisdom and morality.
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