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Julien Benda: Military mysticism

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Julien Benda
From The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des clercs) (1927)
Translated by Richard Aldington

The susceptibility developed by national sentiment as it has become popular makes the possibility of wars far greater today than in the past…And, in fact, how many times during the last hundred years has the world almost flamed up in war because some nation thought its honour had been wounded? To this must be added the fact that this national susceptibility provides the leaders of nations with a new and most effective method of starting the wars they need, whether it is employed at home or abroad…

The prophecy of the old Saxon bard is completely fulfilled: ‘In those days countries will be something they have not yet become – they will be persons. They will feel hatred, and these hatreds will cause wars more terrible than any that have yet been seen.’

The notion that political warfare involves a war of cultures is entirely an invention of modern times, and confers upon them a conspicuous place in the moral history of humanity.

[N]ational passions…assume the character of mysticism, of a religious adoration….There is first of all the spectacle of the military force and organization of modern States, which is something far more imposing than of old. And when these states are seen to make war for an indefinite period after they have no more men, and go on subsisting for long years after they have no more money, it is easy to understand why a man who has some tincture of religion in his mind may be led to believe that these States are of an essence different from that of ordinary natural beings.

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