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Johann Gottfried von Herder: War springs from war and gives rise to another in turn


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

German writers on peace and war

Johann Gottfried von Herder: Selections on war


Johann Gottfried von Herder
From Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind
Translated by T.O. Churchill

Whenever the empire of humanity shall be established among mankind, the mad spirit of conquest which necessarily destroys itself in a few generations will immediately be renounced at her dictates. You drive men like cattle; and join them together as if they were inanimate substances without reflecting that they have minds and that perhaps the last, the outermost piece of the fabric will break off and crush the builder. A kingdom consisting of a single nation is a family, a well-regulated household: it reposes on itself, for it is founded by Nature and stands and falls by time alone. An empire formed by forcing together a hundred nations and a hundred and fifty provinces is no body public, but a monster.


What has been proposed in modern times as the sole mean of establishing perpetual peace throughout Europe, a tribunal of amphictyons, existed formerly among the Greeks; and indeed near the throne of the god of truth and wisdom who sanctified it by his authority.


A monarchy framed by wandering tribes whose political system as a continuation of their former mode of life will scarcely be of long duration: it ravages and subjugates, till at last itself is destroyed: the capture of the metropolis, or frequently the death of a king alone is sufficient to drop the curtain on the predatory scene. Thus it was with Babylon and Nineveh, with Ecbatana and Persepolis and so it is with Persia still. The empire of the great moguls in Hindostan is nearly at an end: and that of the Turks will not be lasting if they continue Chaldeans, that is foreign conquerors, and do not establish their government on a more moral foundation.


The Roman generals were frequently consuls whose military and civil offices usually continued but a year: accordingly they hastened to return triumphant and their successors were eager to emulate their honours. Hence the incredible progress of Roman wars: one sprang from another and gave rise to another in return. Occasions for future campaigns were reserved till the present [one] was ended; and reserved to accumulate with usury as a capital of spoil, success, and glory.


In vain did Numa erect the temples of Janus and Public Faith: in vain did he set up terminal gods and celebrate a boundary feast. These peaceable institutions were obeyed only during his life: for Rome, accustomed to plunder by the thirty years victories of her first ruler [Romulus], thought she could not pay more acceptable homage to Jove than by offering him the spoils of war.

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