Biology and War

Courtesy Reuters

THE vogue of a doctrine depends more upon the will to believe than upon the intellectual conviction which it carries. The famous doctrine of "the biological necessity of war" has recently lost some of its former popularity. At the moment men are no longer disposed to look for a scientific justification of warfare. It is doubtful, however, whether the unsoundness of the doctrine is better understood now than formerly. Indeed the obvious conclusion to draw from the nature of the struggle for existence, as popularly understood, is that contest is in the nature of things. Warfare is only the name for human contests, so the argument runs, and warfare is therefore inevitable. Men may not draw that conclusion now, but this is not because they regard it as erroneous but because they shut their eyes to the whole matter. The day may dawn when the generalization will again have an appeal. It is nevertheless a false generalization and the more widely this is understood the less possible will it become to find so-called scientific excuses for war.

A good example of the form which this doctrine has taken is found in a passage from von Bernhardi. "Wherever we look in nature," he wrote, "we find that war is a fundamental law of development. This great verity, which has been recognised in past ages, has been convincingly demonstrated in modern times by Charles Darwin. He proved that nature is ruled by an increasing struggle for existence, by the right of the stronger, and that this struggle in its apparent cruelty brings about a selection eliminating the weak and the unwholesome." In this passage there are two assertions. The first is that war is in the nature of things. The second is that in the long run war promotes the welfare of mankind. Let us examine these assertions in turn.

It is doubtful whether the first assertion would have ever been made, in any case in this positive form, had it not been

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