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Aldous Huxley: Absurdity of talking about the defence of democracy by war

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

Aldous Huxley: Selections on war

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Aldous Huxley
From Ends and Means (1937)

aldous_huxley

A country which proposes to make use of modern war as an instrument of policy must possess a highly centralized, all-powerful executive. Hence the absurdity of talking about the defence of democracy by force of arms. A democracy which makes or even effectively prepares for modern, scientific war must necessarily cease to be democratic.

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No country can be really well prepared for modern war unless it is governed by a tyrant, at the head of a highly trained and perfectly obedient bureaucracy. I have said that a country which proposes to make use of modern war as an instrument of policy must possess a highly centralized, all-powerful executive. But, conversely, a country which possesses a highly centralized, all-powerful executive is more likely to wage war than a country where power is decentralized and the population genuinely governs itself.

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Extreme centralization of power creates opportunities for individuals to believe that the state is themselves. To make or to threaten war becomes, for the tyrant, a method of self-assertion. The state is made the instrument of an individual’s manias of persecution and grandeur. Thus we see that extreme centralization of power is not only necessary if war is to be waged successfully; it is also a contributory cause of war. In existing circumstances the ruling classes of every nation feel that they must prepare for war. This means that there will be a general tendency to increase the power [of the state].

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A militarily efficient society is one whose members have been brought up in habits of passive obedience and at the head of which there is an individual exercising absolute authority through a perfectly trained hierarchy of administrators. In time of war, such a society can be manipulated as a single unit and with extraordinary rapidity and precision. A society composed of men and women habituated to working in self-governing groups is not a perfect war-machine. Its members may think and have wills of their own. But soldiers must not think nor have wills.

Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die. Furthermore, a society in which authority is decentralized, a society composed of co-ordinated but self-governing parts, cannot be manipulated so swiftly and certainly as a totalitarian society under a dictator. Self-government all round is not compatible with military efficiency. So long as nations persist in using war as an instrument of policy, military efficiency will be prized above all else.

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Duces and Fuehrers will cease to plague the world only when the majority of its inhabitants regard such adventurers with the same disgust as they now bestow on swindlers and pimps. So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable. The proper attitude towards the ‘hero’ is not Carlyle’s, but Bacon’s. ‘He doth like the ape,’ wrote Bacon of the ambitious tyrant, ‘he doth like the ape that, the higher he clymbes, the more he shewes his ars.’ The hero’s qualities are brilliant; but so is the mandril’s rump.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    It’s a shame that more contemporary readers don’t pick up Huxley (http://empiricalmag.blogspot.com/2013/02/february-excerpt-aldous-huxley.html). If anyone needs to learn from him, it’s today’s generation.

    • richardrozoff
      February 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Thank you for the link.
      The excerpt from the essay on Huxley’s Brave New World and its relevance for today, especially for today’s youth, is supremely important.
      I read the novel when I was 18, in a junior college course on technology and human values, and with each succeeding year I am more impressed with the fact that it is the prognosis on what has become social, cultural and moral (such as they are) reality in the 21st century.
      That the author presented the future so accurately 80 years ago is nothing less than phenomenal, miraculous.

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