Home > Uncategorized > Remy de Gourmont: Getting drunk at the dirty cask of militarism

Remy de Gourmont: Getting drunk at the dirty cask of militarism

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

Remy de Gourmont: If they wage war, in what state must the world be?

Remy de Gourmont
From Epilogues: First Series (1903)
Translated by Richard Aldington

M. Taine, who was a great intelligence, was one of the men of his age who seemed to emit the falsest ideas and the most venturesome judgments…I remember being very much scandalised at reading in one of his books that it was an immense advantage for the modern individual to belong to one of the great European nations; it seemed to me that he had forgotten that in return for the protection they offer their members the great nations impose sacrifices on them and demand services which nothing can counter-balance. For example, they impose upon them a noisy, blind and continual hatred or a disorderly love for another nation, according to the chance of battles and diplomacies; they make upon them the dreadful exaction of military service under conditions of duration and barbarity which are giving the European the soul and attitude of a beaten dog; and finally, as a consequence of a slavery, consented to with joy, with howls, they take upon themselves the pure and simple right of life and death over all the males they control…

In the time that Taine wrote there were still some continental countries, some small countries, where men could dispose freely of their lives. Tomorrow there will be not one and Taine will be right; when all the Belgians are soldiers there will be no advantage (it was the only one) in being a Belgian…For Belgium is beginning to get drunk at the dirty cask of militarism, and Holland, already intoxicated, claims almost unanimously the formula of modern slavery: “Equal military service for all!” In this ancient land of liberty only the Catholic party has protested, not without a certain disgust; it has taken as the text for its polemics these words, which are a principle: “No man should be a soldier by force.” The others have arguments, the most curious of which is that the consequence of the reform will be a raising of the intellectual and moral level of the troops; it is more probable that in Holland, as everywhere else, it will only succeed in brutalising the nation, by inculcating in all men the taste for obedience and passivity. At bottom it is the triumph of German influence and of the Prussian motto: “Serve, pay and be silent.”

****

Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893): French historian and literary scholar.

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