Home > Uncategorized > Johann Gottfried von Herder: Disturbing the peace of the world for domestic benefits

Johann Gottfried von Herder: Disturbing the peace of the world for domestic benefits


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

[The] patricians and plebeians were almost always at variance, so that the senate found it necessary to create wars for the purpose of employing the unruly multitude, or some turbulent leader, abroad that peace might be preserved at home…[As] the senate itself was often closely beset with dangers and frequently found victories or the fame of victories necessary for its support, and as every daring patrician who wished the people to espouse his cause stood in need of donations, games, celebrity and triumphs which war alone, or for the most part, could furnish, this divided, restless government was a cause of disturbing the peace of the world and keeping it in commotion for centuries; for out of regard to its own happiness, no orderly state, tranquil in itself, would have been the actor of such a fearful tragedy.


Impelled by pride or necessity and favoured by various circumstances, the Romans were engaged with them [other Italian cities] in arduous, bloody wars for five centuries…Once chained to Rome’s brazen yoke, they were compelled for centuries, as subjects or allies, to spill their blood in her service and for her profit and glory, not their own. Once chained to this yoke, notwithstanding all the privileges conferred on this people or on that, every individual was at last reduced to seek fortune, honour, wealth and justice in Rome alone so that in a few centuries the great city became the grave of Italy.


How foul to you must appear your honour, how bloody your laurels, how base and inhuman your exterminating arts! Rome is no more: and when it did exist the feelings of every worthy man must have whispered to him that all these monstrous, ambitious victories would call down vengeance and destruction on his country.

The law of retaliation is an eternal ordinance of nature. As in a balance neither scale can be depressed without the ascent of the other; so no political equilibrium can be destroyed, no sin against the rights of nations and of mankind can be committed without avenging itself; and the more the measure is heaped, the more tremendous will be its fall.


[Even] without luxury, without plebeians, without a senate and without slaves, the military spirit of Rome alone must have ultimately destroyed it; and that sword, which it so often drew against innocent cities and nations, have returned into its own bowels. But here all history speaks for me. When the legions, unsatiated with spoil, found nothing more to plunder, and on the frontiers of Parthia and Germany saw an end to their fame, what could they do but turn back and devour the parent state?

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