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La Bruyère on the lust for war


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

French writers on war and peace

Jean de La Bruyère: And self-slaughtering man dares call animals brutes


Jean de La Bruyère
From Characters (1688)
Of the Sovereign and the State
Translated by Henri Van Laun

Even in the most remote antiquity, and in all ages, war has existed, and has always filled the world with widows and orphans, drained families of heirs, and destroyed several brothers in one and the same battle.


In every age men have agreed to destroy, burn, kill, and slaughter one another, for some piece of land more or less; and to accomplish this with the greater certainty and ingenuity, they have invented beautiful rules, which they call “strategy.”

When any one brings these rules into practice, glory and the highest honours are his reward, whilst every age improves on the method of destroying one another reciprocally. An injustice committed by the first men was the primary occasion for wars, and made the people feel the necessity of giving themselves masters to settle their rights and pretensions. If each man could have been satisfied with his own property and had not infringed on that of his neighbours, the world would have enjoyed uninterrupted peace and liberty.

They who sit peaceably by their own firesides among their friends, and in the midst of a large town, where there is nothing to fear either for their wealth or their lives, breathe fire and sword, busy themselves with wars, destructions, conflagrations, and massacres, cannot bear patiently that armies are in the field and do not meet; or, if in sight, that they do not engage; or, if they engage, that the fight was not more sanguinary, and that there were scarcely ten thousand men killed on the spot.

They are sometimes so infatuated as to forget their dearest interests, their repose and security, for the sake of change, and from a liking for novelty and extraordinary events; some of them would even be satisfied with seeing the enemy at the very gates of Dijon or Corbie, with beholding chains stretched across the streets and barricades thrown up, for the satisfaction of hearing and of communicating the news.

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