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Shaftesbury: Improvement of arts and scholarship requires rest from war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury
From Advice to an Author
Grandees and men in power

It would be very hard if the princes of our nation refused to permit the industrious race of authors to do their work; since their royal ancestors and predecessors have had so much honour brought to them from their being writers. It’s to authorship that they owe that bright jewel of their crown, purchased by a warlike prince [Henry VIII] who took on the role of author and tried his strength in the polemical writings of the scholastic theologians, and thought it was an honour on this account to retain the title of Defender of the Faith.

Another prince [James I], with a more peaceful nature and fluent thought, put scholarship ahead of arms and military discipline. Putting his trust in his princely knowledge and profound learning, he made his style and speech the nerve and sinew of his government. He gave us his works full of wise exhortation and advice to his royal son as well as of instruction to his good people…At that time one might have seen our nation growing young and teachable, with the simplicity of heart that qualified them to profit like a scholar-people under their royal teacher…

It’s barely a quarter-century since our prince and our people reached such a good balance of power that our previously fragile liberties are now firmly secured, and we are freed from the fear of civil commotions – and of wars and violence…

It’s the same with us as it was with the Roman people in those early days, when to apply themselves to the improvement of arts and scholarship all they needed was a rest from war.

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From Concerning Virtue or Merit

The last passions that we have to examine are the ones that don’t lead to a public or a private good, and don’t bring any advantage to the species in general or to the creature in particular. I call these the ‘unnatural affections’, to distinguish them from the ‘social’ (or ‘natural’) affections and from the ‘private’ affections.

Of this kind is the unnatural and inhuman delight in beholding torments, and getting a special joy and pleasure from viewing distress, calamity, blood, massacre and destruction. This has been the dominant passion of many tyrants and barbarous nations; and some degree of it belongs to temperaments that have thrown off the courteousness of behaviour that retains in us a proper reverence for mankind and prevents the growth of harshness and brutality. Wherever civility or affable manners have any place, however small, this passion doesn’t occur. It is in the nature of ‘good breeding’, as we call it, that even in the midst of many other corruptions it won’t allow inhumanity or savage pleasure. To get cruel delight from an enemy’s suffering may come from intense anger, vengefulness, fear, or some other extreme self-passion; but to delight in the torture and pain of other creatures even-handedly – natives or foreigners, human or of some other species, related to us or not, known or unknown – to feed on death (so to speak), and to be entertained with dying agonies, can’t be explained in terms of self-interest or private good, but is wholly and absolutely unnatural, as well as being horrible and miserable.

 

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