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William Hazlitt: And this is patriotism. Practitioners of eternal war.


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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war


William Hazlitt
From Illustrations of Vetus (1813)

[T]here is, in our opinion, a third extreme of English faction (if Vetus will spare us the anomaly) not less, absurd, and more mischievous than either of the others: we mean those who are the blind adherents of every minister who happens to been engaged in a war, however unnecessarily or wantonly it may have been begun, or however weakly and wickedly carried on: who see no danger in repeated disgraces, and impending ruin provided we are obstinately bent on pursuing the same dreadful career which has led to them; who, when our losses come thronging in upon us, urge us to persist till we recover the advantages we have lost, and, when we recovered them, force us on till we lose all again; with whom peace, in a time of adverse fortune, is dishonour, and in the pride of success, madness: who only exaggerate “our pretensions at a peace,” that they may never be complied with; who assume a settled unrelenting purpose in our adversary to destroy us, in order to inspire us with the same principle of never-ending hostility against him: who leave us no alternative but eternal war, or inevitable ruin: who irritate the hatred and the fears of both parties, by spreading abroad incessantly a spirit of defiance, suspicion, and the most galling contempt: who, adapting every aspect of affairs to their own purposes, constantly return in the same circle to the point from which they set out: with whom peace is always unattainable, war always necessary!


From the moment that we make the destruction of an enemy (be he who he may) the indispensable condition of our safety, our destruction from that moment becomes necessary to his, and an act of self-defence… “What has this nation of Saxon warriors ever yet endured from France but injury and affliction?” Yet we have made a shift to exist as a nation under all this load of calamity. We still breathe and live notwithstanding some intervals of repose, some short resting places afforded us, before this morbid inspector Doctor Pedro Positive injoined his preposterous regimen of incessant war as necessary to lasting peace, and to our preservation as a people!


[I]f it is once laid down and acted upon as a maxim in national morality, that the best and most desirable security of a state is in the destruction of its neighbours, or that there is to be an unrelenting ever watchful critical approximation to this object as far as possible, there is an end of civil society…Terrified with the phantom of imaginary danger, he would have us rush headlong on the reality. We are obstinately to refuse the enjoyment of a moment’s repose, and proceed to commit willful dilapidation on the estate of our happiness, because it is not secured to us by an everlasting tenure. Placed at the mercy of the malice or hypocrisy of every venal alarmist, our only resource must be to seek a refuge from our fears in our own destruction, or to find the gratification of our revenge in that of others…That exclusive patriotism which claims for our country an exemption from “contingent danger” which would place its wealth, its power, or even its safety beyond the reach of chance and the fluctuation of human affairs, claims for it an exemption from the common lot of human nature. That exclusive patriotism which seeks to enforce this claim (equally impious and unwise) by the absolute conquest of rival states, tempts the very ruin it professes to avert.


[T]he hired scribbler of a profligate newspaper sits secure and self-satisfied at his desk – with a venomed word, or a lie that looks like truth, sends thousands of his countrymen to death, – receives his pay, and scribbles on, regardless of the dying and the dead! – And this is patriotism.


From What is the People? (1818)

We appeal to the pen, and they answer us with the point of the bayonet; and, at one time, when that had failed, they were for recommending the dagger…They exalt the war-whoop of the Stock Exchange into the voice of undissembled patriotism, while they set down the cry for peace as the work of the Jacobins, the ventriloquism of the secret enemies of their country…Loyalty, patriotism, and religion, are regarded as the natural virtues and plain unerring instincts of the common people: the mixture of Ignorance or prejudice is never objected to in these: it is only their love of liberty or hatred  of oppression that are discovered, by the same liberal-minded junto, to be proofs of a base and vulgar disposition….The voice of (he country has been for war, because the Voice of the King was for it, which was echoed by Parliament, both Lords and Commons, by Clergy and Gentry, and by the populace, till…the cry for war became so popular that all those who did not join in it…were “persecuted, insulted, and injured in their persons, fame, and fortune.”

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