Pavliuk O.I. The philosophical examination of war: origins of the concept

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УДК 355.01



Pavliuk O.I.

The article deals with philosophical examination of war. The author researches the dispute over the definition of the nature of war and distinguishes between the scientists that condemn war and those who defend it. Philosophers have been contemplating war and trying to unravel its nature for a long time. War assessments have differed by extreme diversity and constant contradictions. The author also gives the description of causes and factors of war, and explains their biological, psychological, social, economic and political nature.

Keywords: war, factors of war, genesis of war, theoretical analysis, factor analysis, K. Clausewitz, T. Hobbes, H. Barnes. 




Павлюк О.И.

В статье исследуется понятие войны в истории философско-политической мысли. Автор исследует философские взгляды о природе возникновения войны и освещает труды философов, которые осуждали войну или наобopoт oпpaвдывaли. Многие ученые не могли разгадать природу войны с древних времен. Философские взгляды на войну отличались крайним разнообразием и постоянными противоречиями. Автор также проводит анализ причин возникновения войны и объясняет их биологическую, психологическую, социальную, экономическую и политическую природу.

Ключевые слова: война, факторы войны, генезис понятия войны, теоретический анализ, факторный анализ, К. Клаузевиц, Т. Гоббс, Г. Барнс.


The humanity was accompanied by wars for millennia. They acquire a particular importance in the XX century, because a threat to its existence occurs, and because of the consequences that are associated with a war as such. As for determination of “war”, there are many definitions. The modern definition of the term, taken among domestic military theorists considers war as the social-political phenomenon, an extreme form of solution of socio-political, economic, ideological, national, territorial and other contradictions between states, peoples, nations, segments and social groups by means of armed violence.

People have been ratiocinating about the war and trying to unravel its nature for a long time. Assessments about war differed by extreme diversity and constant contradictions. As O. Snesarev noted at the beginning of the XX century in the work “The Philosophy of War” – has always shaken people, worried their imagination and awakened their attention and feelings [6, с. 44]. Among the people who condemned war, we can find names like Aristophanes, Plato, Montaigne, Pascal, Kant, Rousseau, Hugo, Lamartine, Bright, Cobden and others. Among those who defended and blessed it we should mention Heraclitus, Aristotle, Joseph de Maistre, Machiavelli, Hegel, Proudhon, Lassalle, Clausewitz, Moltke, Nietzsche and others.

The first dispute over the definition of the nature of war occurs according to its naturalness. Following Plato, who said that war is the natural state of nations and war reigns among all nations in the nature, and peace is an empty phrase, this idea is repeated by the following: Seneca (life is the same as war); Heraclitus (war as a struggle of contradictions, is the father and mother of all, some are defined to be gods, others – people, she made some slaves, others – free); Hobbs (mankind is a wolf breed, always ready to tear each other). Kant supported this idea saying that war emanate obviously from human nature itself; Proudhon – war is an essential condition of our humanity; Hugo confirmed that the thirst for destruction is in our blood; Zola said that he found war as a fatal necessity, the inevitability of it stems from the close depending of human nature, on the nature of all things. Dragomyrov deems that everything in nature is based on the struggle, people can not rise above any of the laws of nature; Solovyov supported that to consider war as such, that is subject to immediate and complete abolition there is no reason from a historical point of view; Lassalle said about the civilizational role of sword, etc. [4, с. 155].

On the other hand, against the natural side of war were: Herder (war, if it is not caused by the need to protect is the phenomenon of anti-human), Renan (people do not want war, they want the internal development of the national wealth and public institutions), Tolstoy (War – an event, that is contrary to the mind of man and the entire human nature).

Among those who speak against the naturalness of war, we find more people’s words and feelings than scientists’. But it is surprising that in matters of morality or immorality of war again we come across controversial views, even of the same authors, for example, in St. Augustine, Zola, Pirogov, Hugo.

Only according to one issue about the war people have come to some agreement for a long time – it is the question of the real meaning of war, defining it as an instrument of state policy in the sphere of relations between states. Thus, one of the latest definitions of “war” that supports this position is the determination in the encyclopedia “Philosophy of Politics”: organized armed struggle between states (groups of states), nations (national liberation or colonial) or class (civil) inherent in antagonistic class society [7, с. 109]. However, in our view, this definition makes unnecessarily large emphasis on class structure of society as the basis for war. At the beginning of the XXI century the deployment of globalization in such areas as economy, culture, politics, the term "antagonistic class society" does not meet the realities of modern society. This is reflected in the process of the emergence of new types of warfare, such as information war, psychological and so on.

In the history of this issue, many authors agree with K. Clausewitz’s definition of war as the force that aims to conquer the enemy by one’s will and the phenomenon that has a three-pronged component: 1) violence as a primary element, hatred and hostility that should be considered as blind natural instinct; 2) game of probability and case, making it a free activity of the soul; 3) subordination to policies as a weapon, so it is obeyed to simple reason. War does not belong to the realm of arts and sciences, but to the social realms of existence. It is a major conflict of interest, covered with blood. Politics is a matter in which war develops, it concealed its rudimentary formed features [2]. All these definitions were made by the famous philosopher K. Clausewitz [3, с. 57]. Although they are new and original, Spinoza has said that war is the implementation of natural law that belongs to the stronger one and prevails over the weak. In the same sense, and almost the same words Cicero defined the war as a means of resolving disputes by force [4, с. 157].

Hardly anyone so much condemned war as Victor Hugo. However, when entering the academy he in his brilliant speech expressed the following opinion that he is also the one of those who thinks that war is very good from the point of view from which we can see the history and the whole philosophy of one idea – battles are not bigger wounds deposited humanity than sulcus of plow – wounds that marked the land. That is for five thousand years, all the harvest is determined by the plow. And every civilization – by war [6, с. 43].

At a time when Hugo in his opening speech to the academy praised war, Moltke noted that eternal peace is a dream and not always beautiful. War, according to him, is part of God-established order. But after some time he wrote that people recognize themselves as supporters of the idea of perpetual European peace, which is so often ridiculed. This idea, of course, provides not in the sense that the army should be disbanded, and guns melted. But the whole course of the history is the progress striving for peace, is not it? [6, с. 43]. Another example of the contradictory attitudes to war are the views of Proudhon, who in the first volume of his work “War and Peace” glorifies war beyond the limits and in other volumes exposes it as immoral and absurd phenomenon.

It is known that the classical thesis in conceptual dimension of the term “war” is that the natural state (or a state of war) between states differs from civil status in the same states. As it is noted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, war is not a relation of man to man, but state to state, when individuals become enemies only by accident and not as men or even as citizens, but as soldiers; not as members of the fatherland, but as its defenders [5].

According to Hobbes, the natural state of human society is a “war of all against all” [1, с. 53]. Every nation overpasses in its life two stages. The so-called natural state is preceding before State or civil stages. This is such a period of human history when natural essence of people reveals itself fully and without limits. In the interpretation of human nature Hobbes observes naturalistic views. According to him, people are naturally selfish, seeking to meet their own needs. Because of the greed, a man is by nature an enemy of another man. The principle of “man is a wolf to man” is the basic principle of coexistence of the people in a natural state. In terms of the latter there dominates the so-called natural right, the right of every person to meet their needs in any manner acceptable to them that is in no way considering the interests of others. However, because of the general hostility because of clash of some interests this right becomes something deplorable.

Not so much the welfare or getting some benefits becomes the main concern of man as basic saving of one’s own life, survival as such. However, defense of own lives in provided war of “all against all” becomes very problematic. In the natural state there is a constant danger of death. Fear embraces man. This fear is a common psychological characteristics of a personality. It encourages people to peace, makes them reduce passion and listen to the voice of reason. To get rid of this fear and the constant threat of self-destruction, people devolve to civil status.

A comparative analysis of F. Poulin’s and Hobbes’ views is significant for our consideration. The research points out that Poulin as Hobbes recognized the crucial role of force in human affairs, and finally his model of ancient history at certain points is very similar to Hobbes’ “war of all against all” [8, с. 94]. It can be argued even that this war was understood by Hobbes not as a continuous fight of “all with all”, but as a separate existence of small families that at any time can become victims of aggression assault or aggressors [1, с. 53-154]. Because the war lasts as long as it remains a threat.

But not to turn to such means of international relations as a war, we must know all its factors, and H. Barnes divides them to such: biological, psychological, social, economic and political.

The most important biological cause of the war, he connects with the famous Malthusian concept of outpacing population growth compared to the production of food. Although there are no grounds to assert with certainty that population growth was the immediate cause of World War I, Barnes has no doubt that it has made its contribution to its beginning.

Among the biological causes of war Barnes mentions the view according to which war is a social analogue of the biological struggle for existence that is happening in the field of organic evolution. This doctrine is sometimes called “Social Darwinism”, though Darwin himself has no direct relation to it. However, a number of biologists and social scientists eagerly supported the view that the main factor in the social and cultural progress was wars between people, starting with clashes between tribes and ending the world wars. Barnes did not share this view on the grounds that the struggle for existence in the animal world is rarely struggle between representatives of the same species. Man as an animal – perhaps the only one that attacks members of their own species, and that he does not do that because of inherent biological need, but mainly for reasons of socio-economic and cultural tradition that makes him look at war as the only worthy method to solve his problems [10, p. 295-296].

Among the psychological causes of war Barnes calls factor close, how he believes, to social Darwinism. This is the so-called cult of war, which glorifies the military and naval service as the most noble and prestigious area of activity. It is believed passim that war generates high and free from selfishness feelings and also heroic manifestation of the commitment to the relative social groups. Great heroes of the nation or people are those who bring the greatest honor and victory in war.

The most important of the social causes of war is that which is based on the tendency of groups to generate conflicting interests and fight for their implementation by force. Namely Barnes treats frostily the idea that the conflict of interests in human society remains constant motive of the war because of the existence of many forms of conflict of interest. It thus refers to the fact that the battle of groups within the state does not always and not everywhere take the form of physical conflict, but rather tends to adapt, compromise and civilized competition. If, he says, one could develop the same degree of judicial review and adjustment in the global community, there would be no more need to justify ethnic groups struggle to meet their “legitimate” desire [10, p. 298-299]. 

Barnes like many other sociologists considers economic reasons as the most powerful sources of war. The Industrial Revolution caused a strong increase in production of goods. Old local and domestic markets were insufficient for the increased trade flow. There is a natural need to find new markets abroad. Although part of these markets can be found among highly developed nations in distant countries, for the most part, industrialized countries have sought to capture the colonies as potential consumers of goods produced in the metropolis [10, p. 302].

Finally, among the most important political reasons of war Barnes mentions the modern national state system. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which recognized the state as the sole subject of international relations and international law put the beginning of national state system. Thus developed a dangerous trend to mixing of simple cultural fact of ethnicity with political autonomy and sovereignty. Formation of a large number of small nation states which were to produce a growing number of reasons for the war, contributed to confirmation of this view. The latter won’t disappear for as long as they are not organized under any international organization or any European federation. In addition to its psychological expression of fanatical patriotism the main reason why the national state is a constant threat to peace and world order, is, as Barnes believes, that nationalism is inseparable from the idea of full political sovereignty.

Barnes’ approach is a typical example of the liberal view of the problems of war and in its basic outline; he has not changed to this day, despite the dramatic changes and developments that have occurred since then in the world. However, his views are beyond causal explanation. Many philosophers were more than right in their opposition to causal explanations of the phenomena. Among them, we can name Spengler, who put the question: is it legitimate to put some group of facts of social, religious, physiological, ethical properties as a “cause” for some other group? The point here comes to controversy: freedom in the choice of the fundamental reasons entails that one prefers as prima causa any group, the other - the other one (an inexhaustible source of mutual polemics) [9].

Conclusion. The attitude to war in different historical periods of humanity ranging from complete delight of the war (legendary, heroic period) to the total rejection of it as the fratricidal clashes of different groups on the ethnic, social, religious, political, and another basis that is clearly at odds with the understanding of the essence of a real social phenomenon.

It could not be found as authoritative voice about war according its defense so as could not look for another voice, equally authoritative, but one that says otherwise.

The depth and collision of the war as a phenomenon due to its formidable significance was the reason that philosophers did not examine it as a whole, with great determination to get involved in the details: some stopped their attention on the victims among the people or the economic shock and condemned the war. Others observed signs and great feats of courage, sacrifice, risk and bowed their head before the moral beauty of war. Some were impressed by its oppressive influence on the fate of kingdoms and nations and were frightened by it.

Another reason that people have not been able to explain the nature of war during ancient, medieval and modern times, is that it has strongly influenced people’s emotional and sensual sphere, appealed more to their senses or imagination, frightened them or fascinated.

To summarize the causal concept of war, many researchers, listing a variety of reasons, ranging from bio-psychological to the economic ones, miss another one that appears to be a fundamental cause of conflicts and wars – the existence of a world different, often incompatible value systems. If it is true that the history of the world is developing in spiritual terms, it means that it is held in the area of value attitude to the world. The difference between value systems in turn is based on civilization, therefore – on religious and cultural differences.



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Data about the author: 

Pavliuk Olesia Igorivna – Candidate of Political Sciences, Lecturer of Psychology and Philosophy Department, Bukovinian State Medical University (Chernivtsi, Ukraine).

Сведения об авторе: 

Павлюк Олеся Игоревна – кандидат политических наук, преподаватель кафедры психологии и философии Буковинского государственного медицинского университета (Черновцы, Украина).