Home > Uncategorized > Aldous Huxley: War is not a law of nature, nor even of human nature

Aldous Huxley: War is not a law of nature, nor even of human nature

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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)

huxley-aldous

The malleability of human nature is such that there is no reason why, if we so desire and set to work in the right way, we should not rid ourselves of war as we have freed ourselves from the weary necessity of committing a crime passionnel every time a wife, mistress or female relative gets herself seduced. War is not a law of nature, nor even of human nature. It exists because men wish it to exist; and we know, as a matter of historical fact, that the intensity of that wish has varied from absolute zero to a frenzied maximum. The wish for war in the contemporary world is widespread and of high intensity. But our wills are to some extent free; we can wish otherwise than we actually do. It is enormously difficult for us to change our wishes in this matter; but the enormously difficult is not the impossible.

War exists because people wish it to exist. They wish it to exist for a variety of reasons.

(i) Many people like war because they find their peace-time occupations either positively humiliating and frustrating, or just negatively boring. In their studies on suicide Durkheim and, most recently, Halbswachs have shown that the suicide rate among non-combatants tends to fall during war-time to about two-thirds of its normal figure. This decline must be put down to the following causes: to the simplification of life during war-time (it is in complex and highly developed societies that the suicide rate is the highest); to the intensification of nationalist sentiment to a point where most individuals are living in a state of chronic enthusiasm; to the fact that life during war-time takes on significance and purposefulness, so that even the most intrinsically boring job is ennobled as ‘war-work’; to the artificial prosperity induced, at any rate for a time, by the expansion of war industries; to the increased sexual freedom which is always claimed by societies, all or some of whose members live under the menace of sudden death. Add to this the fact that life in war-time is (or at least was in previous wars) extremely interesting, at least during the first years of the war. Rumour runs riot, and the papers are crammed every morning with the most thrilling news.

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Up to the end of the last war non-combatants, except in countries actually subject to invasion, were not in great physical danger. In any future war it is clear that they will be exposed to risks almost, if not quite, as great as those faced by the fighting men. This will certainly tend to diminish the enthusiasm of non-combatants for war.

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