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Bernard Mandeville: How to induce men to kill and die


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

British writers on peace and war


Bernard Mandeville
From An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue
Part of The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits (1714)
Edited for modern English by Irwin Primer

[H]ow civilized soever men may be, they never forget that force goes beyond reason. The politician must…alter his measures and take off some of man’s fears; he must strive to persuade him that all what was told him before of the barbarity of killing men ceases as soon as these men are enemies of the public, and that their adversaries are neither so good nor so strong as themselves. These things well managed will seldom fail of drawing the hardiest, the most quarrelsome, and the most mischievous into combat…

As soon as the notions of honour and shame are received among a society, it is not difficult to make men fight. First, take care that they are persuaded of the justice of their cause; for no man fights heartily that thinks himself in the wrong; then show them that their altars, their possessions, their wives, children, and everything that is near and dear to them is concerned in the present quarrel, or at least may be influenced by it hereafter; then put feathers in their caps, and distinguish them from others, talk of public-spiritness, the love of their country, facing an enemy with intrepidity, despising death, the bed of honour, and such like high-sounding words, and every proud man will take up arms and fight himself to death before he will turn tail, if it be by daylight…

To continue and heighten this artificial courage, all that run away ought to be punished with ignominy; those that fought well, whether they did beat or were beaten, must be flattered and solemnly commended; those that lost their limbs rewarded; and those that were killed ought, above all, to be taken notice of, artfully lamented, and to have extraordinary encomiums bestowed upon them; for to pay honours to the dead will ever be a sure method to make bubbles [dupes] of the living.

There is nothing that more improves the useful martial courage I treat of, and at the same time shows it to be artificial, than practice; for when men are disciplined, come to be acquainted with all the tools of death and engines of destruction, when the shouts, the outcries, the fire and smoke, the groans of wounded and ghostly looks of dying men, with all the various scenes of mangled carcases and bloody limbs torn off, begin to be familiar to them, their fears abate apace; not that they are now less afraid to die than before, but being used so often to see the same dangers, they apprehend the reality of them less than they did.

[T]he ways and means to rouse man’s pride and catch him by it are nowhere more grossly conspicuous than in the treatment which the common soldiers receive, whose vanity is to be worked upon (because there must be so many) at the cheapest rate imaginable. Things we are accustomed to we do not mind, or else what mortal that had never seen a soldier could look without laughing upon a man accoutred with so much paltry gaudiness and affected finery? [Y]et these fine allurements and the noise made upon a calf’s skin have drawn in and been the destruction of more men in reality than all the killing eyes and bewitching voices of women ever slew in jest. Today the swineherd puts on his red coat and believes everyone in earnest that calls him gentleman; and two days after Serjeant Kite gives him a swinging wrap with his cane for holding his musket an inch higher than it should be. As to the real dignity of the employment, in the last two wars officers, when recruits were wanted, were allowed to list fellows that were convicted of burglary and other capital crimes, which shows that to be made a soldier is deemed to be a preferment next to hanging.

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