Cultural Psychology

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How We Go to War

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AS CITIZENS it’s vital that we understand the devious but predictable means by which our government gets us into wars.  When enough do, perhaps the day will come when we can stop our country from continually plunging into unjust and disastrous wars.

As we learn from the works of writers like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, the process by which we go to war is fairly consistent.  It can be seen as having four steps: (1) Motive, (2) Opportunity, (3) Pretext, and (4) Consent.

1. Motive

First the government needs some motive for fighting a war.  Almost always the motive is economic gain; occasionally it is self-defense; but it is never humanitarian.  If the government were motivated by sheer humanitarian concern, it would recognize that there are far better ways to help the poor and suffering of the world (e.g., with food, medicine and education) than by fighting wars.  Wars tend to produce worse humanitarian conditions than those they purportedly set out to remedy or prevent.

Often our government wants war to please foreign allies (e.g., Israel, Saudi Arabia).  However even in such cases motives are ultimately economic.  That is to say it isn’t the people of these countries that want the US to fight a proxy war for them, but rather elite oligarchs (e.g., Saudi billionaires) or vested interests (e.g., Israeli defense contractors) within those countries.

Besides motives specific to each situation there are also constant background factors that predispose our country to war.  Among these are (1) the military-industrial complex, which thrives on war, whether necessary or not; (2) banks and financial institutions, which can usually find ways to make huge profits from wars;  and (3) politicians for whom war is a way to gain popular support and/or to distract attention from domestic problems.

2. Opportunity

Having a motive isn’t enough.  There needs to be some window of opportunity that makes a military intervention appear to have reasonable probability of achieving its goal. An unpopular or authoritarian ruler or general domestic instability within a foreign nation are two examples.

This principle helps explain why there is usually a rush into war.  The politicians say, “We don’t have time to deliberate this carefully.  The situation is too urgent.  We must act immediately.”

It’s also important that the country being targeted for intervention not have too many powerful allies, and that it not itself pose a credible military threat.

3. Pretext

A government can’t very easily say, “we’re fighting this war for our own gain.” There needs to be a socially acceptable pretext.  Common ploys are as follows:

Exaggerate threats. Sometimes there already exists a convenient pretext, such as actual violations of human rights.  These are then exaggerated.  They are also presented in a one-sided way.  For example, we are told of terrible actions committed by a foreign ruler, but not of equivalent acts by opposing factions. Every effort is made to demonize and dehumanize the enemy.

Instigate. If there isn’t already a convenient pretext, our government has almost unlimited power to create one.  A standard method is to sponsor a rebellion within the target country.  This tactic has been used countless times by our government.

The example of the Panama Canal is illustrative.  At the beginning of the 20th century, the US had an immense economic interest in building a canal through the Isthmus of Panama.  At the time this area was part of Colombia.  Colombia was willing to lease rights for a canal to the US, but balked at the first offer, seeking better terms.  In response an angry Teddy Roosevelt promptly resorted to ‘Plan B’:  for the US to work with a faction of Colombian businessmen to orchestrate the secession of Panama.  A warship, the U.S. Nashville was promptly dispatched to Central America. Once it arrived offshore, a small revolutionary force (actually, a fire brigade paid by the New Panama Canal Company) declared Panama an independent country.  The Nashville then quickly landed its troops to keep Colombia from interfering; high-ranking Colombian military officials were also bribed.

From the newly independent Panama, the US procured extremely favorable arrangements for building and operating a canal, including de facto ownership of adjacent land (the Canal Zone remained a US territory until 1999).   As one Senator at the time put things, “We stole it fair and square.”

Some may say, “But it’s perfectly legitimate for the US to back a popular insurrection.  After all, didn’t the French help us during our revolution?”  There is, arguably, a small grain of truth to this argument — but no more than that.  There are dissidents and malcontents in every country.  The question never asked is whether such a group represent a popular rebellion, or merely a small faction.  When are rebels honest patriots, and when merely warlords, thugs, and greedy opportunists?

In this case the US helped orchestrate the secession of Panama.  Other times it connives to depose an inconvenient foreign regime via a coup.  Confirmed (from since-declassified official documents) cases of the CIA’s global campaign of regime-ousting coups include Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), the Dominican Republic (1961), and Brazil (1964).

But these are only the cases where our own official documents confirm the activity.  In addition there are over two dozen more instances where there is little doubt of active CIA involvement in a foreign coup. A classic study of this topic is William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II.

Outright lies. As people are only all too willing to assume the worst, this tactic seldom meets with much resistance.  The most wild, illogical and preposterous charges are accepted as truth.  There is no shortage of sources who will gladly concoct and feed to the government false stories, which news media happily repeat.  A classic, recent example of this is the ridiculous charge that Libyan president Qaddafi distributed Viagra to his troops to facilitate a genocidal campaign of rape. In reality, the only genocide that occurred in Libya is when the foreign-backed, armed and trained rebels, upon deposing and brutally killing Qaddafi, besieged the hapless sub-Saharan immigrants whom he, a staunch pan-Africanist, had brought into the country to supply construction labor.

Provoke. Provocation is another regularly used tactic.  One simply needs to make aggressive advances towards a foreign government, with the calculated intention of provoking a military response.  That defensive response of the foreign government — which might be no more than a minor, face-saving action — is then vastly exaggerated, and demands are made for a full scale war in retaliation.

When in 1846 the US wanted to acquire large expanses of new territory, and most importantly, California, it stationed troops on the disputed border between Texas and Mexico.  The purpose was to provoke military action by Mexican troops.  Eventually an American scouting party sent into disputed territory ran into a Mexican scouting party; shots were fired and eleven Americans killed.  Scarcely had the blood from the skirmish dried before President Polk, a fervent expansionist, sent an outraged message to Congress, which then rushed to approve measures for all-out war.

An unwilling witness to proceedings in Texas, Colonel Ethan A. Hitchcock, wrote in his diary at the time:

I have said from the first that the United States are the aggressors…. We have not one particle of right to be here…. It looks as if the government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext for taking California and as much of this country [Mexico] as it chooses…. My heart is not in this business, but, as a military man, I am bound to execute orders.  (Zinn, 2010)

False-flag activities. There is almost always some dissatisfied faction within a foreign country that can be goaded by our government into staging a rebellion or coup.  But if all else fails, there is an even shadier recourse: false-flag operations.

These come in two varieties. One is to direct our covert operatives to pose as rebels or dissidents and perform an act of violence against a sitting regime. When the foreign government takes reprisals against the actual rebels, it is accused of being a brutal dictatorship, and this used as an excuse for our military intervention.

The other is for our operatives to perform or sponsor a malicious action posing as agents of the foreign government itself.  That government is then held responsible, and the events used to justify going to war.

4. Manufacture of Consent

Now all that is needed is to convince the American public to support the war.  Usually this isn’t very hard to do: unfortunately, many Americans still consider it their duty to support every war under a misguided sense of patriotism and maintenance of unity.

When every news source recites a war mantra like, “So-and-so is an evil dictator who kills his own people” the public begins to uncritically accept this as fact.   As is well documented, the same marketing techniques that are used to sell cars and laundry detergent are enlisted to manipulate the public thinking into accepting war.

Without going into detail here, we can briefly note several characteristic means of manufacturing consent for war.  These include:

  • Propaganda. The US government today can basically write its own news story and hand it to media sources to uncritically repeat. The number and nature of specific falsehoods is beyond counting.  (“Truth is the first casualty of war.”)
  • Censorship. News media do not publish information which might contradict the official government narrative of events.
  • Intimidation. At home, protestors, dissenters and other anti-war activists can be subjected to actual or implied intimidation, including black-listing, arrest, tax audits, and so on.
  • Conformity. Human beings are herd animals, and the government knows this.  Hence it tries to create the impression that a public consensus exists, even when it doesn’t.  Once people are told “most Americans support this war” they tend to go along with it.
  • Patriotic appeals. Having the Blue Angels fly over a football stadium is always a nice way to rouse the war spirit.  Or maybe have beer commercials featuring wounded veterans.  Call dissenters traitors.

Because the historical facts and the principles at work basically speak for themselves, this is an intentionally short article.  More information can be found in the sources listed below.  However the point of writing this is that today generally — and perhaps even more especially in the weeks preceding the November 2016 election — the public needs to be on its guard lest our government plunge us into another war.  Several potential crises are looming, including Syria, Libya, and the Ukraine.  All three of these fit the pattern outlined here.

Note in any case that everything said here applies only to how our government tries to create a perception of just cause for military intervention.  Establishment of just cause is only the first step of sincere war deliberations. Several other conditions must also be met, including: exhaustion of all other alternatives (i.e., the principle of last resort); assurance that the war will not create greater evils than it seeks to redress; and reasonable prospects of winning the war (which, as recent experience shows, are almost nil).  In actual practice, none of these other components of just war doctrine are realistically considered.  Once the case of a just cause has been made, we jump immediately into war.

All the more reason, then, to exercise utmost vigilance lest our government commence yet another disastrous military adventure.

In conclusion, it is vital that we as citizens examine the record of history to learn how our government lies us into wars.  As the anti-war journalist Richard Sanders put it:

The historical knowledge of how war planners have tricked people into supporting past wars is like a vaccine. We can use this understanding of history to inoculate the public with healthy doses of distrust for official war pretext narratives and other deceptive stratagems. Through such immunization programs we may help to counter our society’s susceptibility to ‘war fever.’

We must learn to habitually question all government narratives that try to lead us to war.  We should be skeptical in the utmost.   We need to train ourselves to ask questions like these:

What is the actual danger we are trying to address?

Where is the documented evidence of this danger?

Why is immediate and lethal force needed to redress this injustice?

Perhaps most importantly we should always ask:  who benefits (cui bono)?  If we do so we will inevitably find that the real motives are private gain.

Further Reading

Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Revised edition. Zed Books, 2003.

Perkins, John. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Berrett-Koehler, 2004.

Herman, Edward S.; Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Revised edition. Knopf Doubleday, 2011.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Revised edition. Harper Collins, 2010.

Zinn, Howard. Zinn on War. 2nd edition. Seven Stories, 2011.

You can also find lot’s of videos (speeches, interviews, documentaries, etc.) featuring Zinn, Chomsky, Blum and Perkins.



Yoga and Voting for Peace

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Art by Dan Morris

ONE definition of Yoga is the integration of the spiritual and material realms in the human being, making a union of Heaven and Earth.

Given this definition, it is possible to approach politics as a form of Yoga.  This would of course be very different from the usual practice of politics today.  Rather, it would try bring into social affairs and institutions of government divine and eternal principles of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

While we’ve grown accustomed to think of politics as selfish and egoistic, in truth it is something that can glorify the Divine.  Among the animals only human beings have devised such things as governments and elections — methods with which, if used rightly, we can greatly improve our lives and planet.

Today the world is in great peril, with a dangerous combination of growing populations, militarism and materialism, combined with threats to the environment and climate.  But since we believe in a benevolent and superintending Spirit, we remain confident that solutions will reveal themselves in due time.

Putting these two thoughts together, we may see that political institutions like elections and voting, if approached rightly, give us a means of shaping a positive future.

What does it mean to approach politics rightly?  Some basic guidelines are evident.  First we know that our choices should be governed by unselfish rather than selfish or egoistic aims.  Our goal as ‘yogic voters’ should be to better the condition of all, not only of some.  Further, it follows from the principles of Yoga, that our actions should seek to unify, not divide members of society.  In addition, right politics and voting should leave our mind more calm and peaceful, not agitated and angry. These principles alone would exclude perhaps 90% of usual politics.

Today we are faced with one great need above all, which is to end the terrible program of constant war that our country (that is, the government and corporations) has pursued.  To help you exert a countering and correcting force of Love, I have placed my name on the ballot in the June 7 primary as an independent peace candidate for US Congress in our district.  A vote for me will be recognized as a vote for peace.  In this way the ordinary process of an election is turned into a referendum against war and for peace.  Since we do not have direct referendums on war, this means of producing one appears promising and I hope others will follow the example in future elections.

Every vote for peace will have a positive karmic effect, helping to improve our country and world.  It is to enable you to gain positive karma for yourself and others that I am running.  The direct goal is not to win the present election, but to begin the journey to peace.

I may add that the alternative — to vote for a Democrat or Republican politician — would, in my opinion, have little effect, as both represent materialistic values and the differences between them are negligible; I also believe they habitually promote divisive issues with the aim of diverting public attention from more fundamental needs for change, such as ending war.

Therefore please let me ask that you visit my campaign website and consider voting for peace.

If you should like to share this information, that would also be appreciated as I am relying on grassroots means of reaching voters.


John Uebersax


Open Letter to US Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA): Stop Inciting War in the Ukraine

with 3 comments

23 March 2015

Dear Representative Capps:

I am disappointed that you voted ‘yea’ last Friday on the House resolution calling on President Obama to provide military assistance to the Ukraine:

  1. It is widely reported, plausible, and probably true that the US, via the CIA, helped instigate the crisis in the first place, actively seeking to separate the Ukraine from the Russian orbit.
  1. It is further common knowledge that Germany, for its economic gain, is also responsible for instigating the crisis.
  1. The text of the resolution is fallacious. It implies that whereas a “prosperous Ukraine” is “in the national interest of the United States” that we have some right — if not indeed a moral obligation — to supply military assistance to the Ukraine. Such reasoning is worthy of Machiavelli: it assumes without question that we have a right to make war merely for the sake of promoting our national interest — rather than, as our Founders wished, only to protect our national *security* interests. It is also fallacious to assert that our unquestioned goal should be to help other countries be prosperous — as though material wealth were the purpose of human existence, and that higher values (like peace and friendship) are not our true goals.
  1. It overlooks the potentially reasonable position that the Ukraine itself is ethnically divided, with the eastern Ukraine being more culturally Russian, and therefore having a valid wish to remain within the Russian sphere.
  1. We have had enough war, and enough of shipping arms around the world!
  1. When will the Congress recognize that it is not only possible, but better to cultivate peace rather than to pursue war?

John Uebersax

San Luis Obispo

Written by John Uebersax

March 24, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Pitirm Sorokin – The Conditions of Lasting Peace

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Pitirim A. Sorokin, “The Conditions of Lasting Internal and International Peace.”  From: Pitirim A. Sorokin, Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics.  New York: Harper, 1947;  Chapter 32, Part III (pp. 514–522).

sorokin harvard archives

Chapter 32. Fluctuation of Peace and War in Intergroup Relationship

 III. The Conditions of Lasting Internal and International Peace

1. No Lasting Peace Within Decaying Sensate Culture, Society, and Man

Within the framework of the contemporary (sensate) culture [1], society, and man, no elim­ination, even no substantial weakening of national and international group tensions — eco­nomic, racial, ethnic, occupational and others — is possible, because this framework is shot through by a multitude of irreconcilable clashes of values. Neither most intensive sensate propaganda nor sensate education, nor political and economic measures, so far as they remain within the framework of sensate society and culture, can perform this task. At the best, they may shift the center and loci of the ten­sions, may change their color and concrete forms, but that is all they can do. Taken as a {p. 515} whole they are utterly inadequate to achieve the purpose, because they neither touch nor eradicate the deep cause of the intergroup tensions and conflicts.

The first reason for this somewhat pessi­mistic statement is the predominant nature of the contemporary culture and society and, as their resultant, of contemporary man. Their sociocultural nature incessantly generates a multitude of tensions and conflicts and cannot help doing that.

(a) They all are permeated by the spirit, ethos, and pathos of rivalry, competition, and desire of victory over the rivals and others in all fields of sociocultural activity, from science, football, fine arts, and business up to the “im­perialistic superiority” of religions and their Gods and followers. This spirit ceaselessly gen­erates a striving for superiority, power, and prestige of the competitors over their rivals, and a deep desire for their defeat and ‘lower place” in the universe. This passion leads to a cultivation of the “fighting spirit” and an inde­fatigable and never ceasing fight with the rivals. An unavoidable result of such a sit­uation is a multitude of intergroup antagonisms and clashes between the rivals, the victors, and the vanquished, “the superior and the inferior” (in politics, business, science, arts, religion, etc.), “the parties of success and of failure.” In other words, interindividual and intergroup conflicts are an inseparable, immanent, or in­herent trait of the contemporary culture, so­ciety, and man. These are inherently belliger­ent in their sociocultural nature.

(b) To the same result these lead through their assigning paramount importance to the sensory, material, hedonistically-utilitarian values in their total scale of values. Notwith­standing the hypocritical, half-mechanical preaching of the values of “the Kingdom of God,” the contemporary culture, society, and man, in their actual functions, make the sensory, material, hedonistic values paramount — the supreme goal of human aspirations, ambitions, and desires. These values range from money, wealth, material comfort, mate­rial security, and conspicuous consumption up to the kisses, copulation, popularity, fame, power, and prestige. As these values are scarce and limited in their quantity and cannot be spread in unlimited abundance among all in­dividuals and groups, the paramount value given to them by our culture and society pro­duces ceaselessly a never ending, intense, often bloody and antisocial struggle of every group with every other competing group for as large a share of these values as can be obtained at the cost of others. This results again in tensions and conflicts.

(c) The same result is generated by the contemporary culture, society, and man through their dominant hedonistic and egocentrically utilitarian ethics, law, and mores, and especially through the excessive relativization of all norms and values devoid of any universal binding. This atomization leads to moral, mental, and social anarchy and to cynicism in which each rival group regards itself as the supreme arbiter entitled to use any means for its victory. As a consequence, the emergence of rude force masked by fraud and other more subtle screens becomes in­evitable. Force becomes the supreme judge. “The weapon of criticism turns into the criti­cism by the weapon of force.” Tensions and clashes follow.

(d) Incessant clashes are also generated by the dominant — sensate — man of our time. He is, first of all and most of all, a fighter, intoxi­cated by lust for victory, power, influence, fame, pleasure, and sensate happiness. “To suppose that men who are filled individually with every manner of restlessness, maddened by lust of power and speed, votaries of the god Whirl, will live at peace whether with them­selves or others, is the vainest chimera,” rightly remarks one of the eminent American humanists. [2]

(e) This conflagration of war and violence is hastened along by the general degradation of man’s value by sensate culture. Quite consistently with its major premise, that true reality and value are sensory, it views man as a mere empirical “electron-proton complex,” a “reflex mechanism,” a mere “animal organism,” a “psychoanalytical bag filled with libido,” devoid of anything supersensory, sacred, or divine. No wonder that in such a culture man is treated in the same manner as we treat all the other sensory “complexes,” “mechanisms,” {p. 516} and “animals”; any individual or group that hinders the realization of one’s wishes is elim­inated in the same way in which we liquidate a mosquito or a snake or “neutralize” any organic or inorganic object that impedes the fulfillment of our desires. This explains why, in spite of all the vociferous claims by our culture as to its humanistic, humane, and humanitarian mission, it is, objectively, in its decadent phase, one of the most inhuman of all cultures, killing, mutilating, and degrading human beings by the tens of millions.

(f) Similarly, the basic institutions of con­temporary society are permeated by the same militarism and are incessantly generating inter­individual, civil, and international conflicts. Private property, with its inevitable differenti­ation into the excessively rich and the utterly miserable, generates persistent criminality, class antagonism, and class war. The state with its naked power policy of the Machiavellian raison d’état is an openly militaristic institution unrestrained by any of the ethical norms that are obligatory for private conduct. The same is true of our political parties: first and fore­most they are fighting machines, using the spoils system, bribery, vituperation, murder, and civil war as instruments in their struggle for spoils and power. Our occupational unions, beginning with labor unions and ending with capitalists’ associations, are organized primarily for militant purposes, namely, the successful defeat of antagonistic organizations by what­ever means may be necessary, whether there be strikes and lockouts or revolution and civil war. Even the family, so far as it imbues the children with the cult of family egotism, power, and “success,” is shot through with the same militaristic spirit. Finally almost all our in­stitutions glorify sensate power and success as the highest virtues. They methodically incul­cate a “fighting spirit” into everyone from the day of his birth to the day of his death. Our heroes are invariably fighting persons who suc­cessfully crush their rivals, whether on the football field, in cut-throat business rivalry, on a battlefield, in political machinations, or in class war; and they are typified by our “world champions” in tennis, swimming, coffee-drink­ing, pole-sitting, and jitter-bugging. Even our “Superman” is the superman only because he “is faster than a bullet, more powerful than a locomotive,” and more militant than Mars; he is forever in a fighting mess.

Thus, whether we study the objective move­ment of war and revolution that has grown with the emergence and growth of modern culture or whether we study the essential char­acteristics exhibited by it and the society and man expressing it, we cannot fail to see their preeminently militant sociocultural nature, especially in its decaying phase. War in its vari­ous forms, and especially the war for sensory values, is their ethos, soul, and heart. Within the framework of sensate culture, society, and man, no lasting national or international peace has ever been or ever will be possible.

This means also that most of the contem­porary plans for a lasting peace are doomed to failure so far as they hope to achieve it within this framework by a mere job of re-patching. Elementary inductive considerations will show this unequivocally. As patented panaceas against war, these plans offer an enlightened self-interest; a specious “utilitarian rationality”; emancipation from religion and absolutistic ethics; a greater and more extreme relativism of all values; a still greater dose of positivism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarian­ism, and mechanisticism in all their varieties; a further expansion of literacy, schools, uni­versities, newspapers, magazines, movies, the radio, and other “educational” instrumentali­ties; a still more rapid increase in scientific discoveries and technological devices; a re­placement of all monarchies by republics, of all autocracies by democracies, of capitalism by communism, socialism, and other sensate “isms”; dismemberment and disarmament of the vanquished; a bigger and better “balance of powers” and various “Unions Now” in the form of diverse double, triple, and quadruple alliances, on up to the United Nations, armed with a crashing military and police force; a higher economic plane of living, at least for the victorious nations; a more just distribution of natural resources, and so on and so forth. The hopelessness of all these hopes is unques­tionably shown by “an ugly fact,” that with the emergence and growth of our modern cul­ture and society from the thirteenth on to the twentieth century all these panaceas have been growing also; and yet their growth has been paralleled during these centuries by an in-­ {p. 517} crease of war and revolution rather than by the decrease for which the plans contend. From such a “concomitant variation” only an idiot can conclude that these panaceas are suffocat­ing war and that, when applied in a still greater dose, they could kill it forever. The only sound conclusion is that either the pan­aceas are perfectly impotent in the eradication of war and revolution or that, within the framework of this modern culture, society, and man, they work in favor of war and revolution, rather than against it. For this reason these plans, especially those that call themselves “practical,” “realistic,” and “scientific,” are nothing but an illusion and self-delusion. Within a different framework, as we shall see, some of these measures can be helpful; within the contemporary one, they cannot and will not build a temple of enduring peace.

2. The Culture and Society Necessary for an Enduring Peace and Order

These gloomy conclusions do not mean that an enduring peace is generally impossible. They signify only that for its realization a new culture, with an appropriate kind of society and man, different from the contemporary one, is in order. The essential characteristics of these can be briefly summed up. [3]

(a) The new culture must put less em­phasis upon purely sensory reality-value and more upon the truly rational and upon the supersensory-metarational reality-value, view­ing the true reality-value as an infinite mani­fold with three main aspects: sensory, rational, and supersensory-metarational, each within its sphere being a true reality and a true value. This conception of the true reality-value, spon­sored by Plato and Aristotle, Erigena, Thomas Aquinas, and Nicholas of Cusa, to mention but a few names, must replace the major premise of our sensate culture. Accordingly, the new culture must be an articulation of this new major premise in all its main compartments: in its science, philosophy, religion, fine arts, ethics, law, and forms of social organization on up to the manners, mores, and ways of living of its individual and group members.

(b) Its science must study, through sensory observation, the empirical aspects of the in­finite manifold; its philosophy must investigate through mathematical and syllogistic logic the rational and logical aspects of the true reality-value; its intuitive wisdom must give us the notion of the supersensory-metalogistic aspects of it through the intuition of great religious and ethical seers, great scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, great philosophers like Plato, great artists like Beethoven and Shakespeare, and great technological inventors inspired to their achievements by intuition. [4] The history of human knowledge is a cemetery filled with wrong empirical observations, false logical rea­sonings, and misleading intuitions. This means that, taken separately, each of these ways of cognition is fallible and that if it is to achieve validity it must have the cooperation and mutual verification of the other two ways of cognition. The outlined integralist system of truth gives us precisely this organic integration, cooperation and mutual verification of all three ways of cognition. As such, it promises to give a more valid, richer, and better-tested truth than that which the dominant, one-sided sensory cognition can give. It eliminates also the contemporary antagonism between, and mutual undermining of, science, philosophy, and religion.

(c) Instead of the excessively relativized and atomized utilitarian and hedonistic pseudo-norms of our culture—devoid of their universal binding-power, transgressed at every suitable occasion, and degraded to the level of mere Paretian “derivations,” Freudian “rationaliza­tions,” Marxian “ideological beautifications” of the economic, sexual, and other sensate “resi­dues,” “complexes,” “drives,” and “interests”— the ethics and law of the new culture in accordance with its major premise must be embodied in a set of universal norms binding and effectively controlling the behavior of all, unquestioned and undisputed in their ethical prestige by any other conflicting norms. In their content these universal norms must be a variation of the main ethical norms of prac­tically all great religions and moral codes, from the elementary Golden Rule and Ten Commandments on up to the norms of the Sermon on the Mount as their sublimest ex-{p. 518} pression. Such an ethics and law will stop the atomization of moral values, eliminate ethical and legal cynicism, and abolish the dictatorship of rude force and fraud as the supreme arbiters of human conduct.

(d) Instead of the spirit of rivalry and cult of success over the others, human relations must be permeated by the spirit of “oneness,” of all groups and persons, by the psychology of the free and real “we,” extended over humanity. Instead of incessant stimulation of “fighting spirit” to overcome the rivals, they must be filled with the pathos of mutual service, by profound ethics of humility and sac­rifice, by love at its noblest and best. Instead of glorification of “success” and the successful champions they must inculcate a sincere, wholehearted teamwork without the superiors and inferiors, the heroes, and the failures. The spirit of a good family in which every member is honestly doing his work, according to his ability, and where nobody thinks of a superi­ority and inferiority, is a rough approximation to this spirit of the culture and society neces­sary for the elimination of tensions, revolu­tions, and wars.

(e) Again in accordance with its major premise, the painting and sculpture, literature and music, drama and architecture, of the new culture must be quite different from contem­porary fine arts. Integralist beauty must be reunited with truth and goodness, so that the new fine arts will become a value-laden art instead of being an empty art for art’s sake. Instead of debunking the immortals, the new art must immortalize the mortals, ennoble the ignoble, and beautify the ugly. Instead of being negativistic, centered around the police morgue, criminal’s hideouts, insane asylums, and sex organs, it would reflect mainly the eternal values, positive ideals, heroic events, and great tragedies and dramas. Like the com­parable art of Greece in the fifth century B.C. and of Europe in the thirteenth century A.D., it must be an inspiring, ennobling, educating, and truly beautifying art instead of a degrad­ing, demoralizing, and enervating cult of social pathology, as contemporary art largely is.

(f) In such a culture man will again be regarded as an end-value, as an incarnation of the divine manifold rather than as a mere biological   organism,   reflex-mechanism, or psychoanalytical libido, as he is usually re­garded now. The value of man must again be lifted far above the utter degradation into which he is now thrown. Accordingly, the prac­tices, institutions, and relationships that turn man into a mere means for predominantly sensate ends will largely disappear.

(g) Most of the social institutions that con­tradict the total character of this new culture must be eliminated. The dominant form of social relationships in such a society must be neither contractual nor compulsory, but familistic. The economic and political regimes of such a society must be neither capitalistic, communistic, nor socialistic, but familistic. The enormous contrast between multimillion­aires and paupers, the rulers and the ruled, must disappear. Private property shall be limited and turned into a kind of public trusteeship. A decent minimum of the neces­sities shall be secured for all. The main motives for a socially useful economic and political life should be neither profit nor power but the motive of creative service to the society, similar to the motivation of great artists, religious leaders, scientists, and true philanthropists. Social institutions that contradict these pur­poses shall largely disappear, those that serve them will be established and reinforced.

The practical consequences of the establish­ment of such a culture and society will be im­mense, especially in the field of human men­tality, conduct, and interrelationships. The new system of values and truth will abolish the contemporary antagonism between science, philosophy, and religion; they will all be in­separable organs of a unified system of truth, all pointing toward the same verities, validities, and values. The contemporary atomization and relativization of truth, goodness, and beauty will have been terminated. With this there will be an end to the contemporary mental, moral, and social anarchy. An age of certitude will re­place our present age of uncertainty. Liberated from the gnawing tortures of uncertainty, the sapping poison of contradictions, and the weariness of confusion, the human mind will once more regain an inner harmony, peace, and happiness. With these qualities its creative vigor, self-confidence, and self-control will be restored. In such conditions most of the con­temporary psychoneuroses will evaporate. Uni­- {p. 519} versalized truth will unite into one mind all of mankind.

The general devaluation of that which is purely sensate will greatly weaken the con­temporary struggle for existence and for mate­rial values and will reinforce the quest for the rational and metarational values. As a result interindividual and intergroup antagonisms will greatly decrease, their brutal forms will wither, and man’s conduct will be ennobled and made truly social. The same result will follow from the universalized ethical norms rooted into the heart and soul of men. Not so much by external sanctions as by inner power they will inhibit most of the antisocial actions and relationships, particularly the bloody mistreatment of man by man, of group by group. The most brutal forms of crime, civil strife, and international warfare cannot thrive in such a cultural climate and will greatly decrease. The same is true of brute force and fraud as the arbiters of human con­duct.

The new fine arts will contribute their share to the same effect. By virtue of their positive beauty they will educate, inspire, instruct, fascinate, and control human beings fully as much as the new science and religion, philoso­phy and ethics. Primarily devoted to eternal beauty, the fine arts will serve also, as a by­product, the task of true socialization of homo sapiens. In this way they will contribute gen­erously to an elimination of antisocial activities, relationships, and institutions in the human universe.

Finally, through its regained harmony, peace, and happiness of mind the new culture will make human beings less egoistic, irritable, quarrelsome, violent, and antisocial. Through a release of new creative forces in all fields of sociocultural activity it will make everyone a partner and participant in the most sublime form of happiness, the happiness of a creative genius.

In these and thousands of other ways the new culture will develop a new man, happy, generous, kind, and just to himself and to all his fellowmen. Within the framework of such a culture, society, and man neither interin­dividual war (crime), nor civil war, nor inter­national war can flourish. If they do not dis­appear entirely, they will certainly decrease to the lowest minimum known in human history.

Such are the essential traits of the culture, society, and man necessary for an enduring peace in interindividual, intergroup, and inter­national relationships. Without this framework as the main condition of peace, all the other panaceas against war and revolution are futile. With it, many of these will facilitate its realization. For instance, with this sociocul­tural foundation the United Nations and other forms of superstate government will faithfully and fruitfully serve the cause of peace. With­out it, such a superstate government will be either as impotent as the defunct League of Nations or, what is still worse, may turn into a world tyranny as cruel as some of the “world empires” of the past or will lead to an in­crease of civil wars. [5] Without it the military and police forces of such a world govern­ment will certainly be misused and will even­tually serve the cause of war instead of the cause of peace. With it, all the state and super­state governments, no matter what may be their technical forms, will be true familistic democracies. As such they will actively facili­tate the maintenance of peace. Without it, no formal republican or democratic regime, even if universally diffused, can ever help—no more so than in the past, when the democratic and republican countries were at least as belligerent as the monarchical and autocratic nations and when the growth of republican and demo­cratic regimes for the last few centuries has been followed by an increase, rather than by a decrease, of war. Without this framework the further increase of scientific discoveries and technological inventions will be of just as little avail as in the past, during which, begin­ning with the thirteenth century, they have steadily and rapidly increased up to the present {p. 520} time and have been followed by an almost parallel increase of war and revolution. The same is true of the development of schools, universities, books, magazines, papers, movies, radio, theaters, and all the other means of contemporary education. Beginning with the thirteenth century, they have been steadily in­creasing without any resulting decrease of war, revolutions, or crime. This is still more true in regard to such panaceas as a more equitable distribution of the natural resources or a higher material standard of living or a more en­lightened self-interest and utilitarian “rational­ity.” Without the foregoing framework any truly equitable distribution of the natural re­sources throughout all mankind is impossible, just as it has been impossible in the past. The states and nations will remain as egotistic and rapacious as they have hitherto been. Those who believe that a diffusion of democratic forms of government would change this forget that the so-called democracies of the past and the present have been fully as imperialistic as the autocracies. They forget also the unpleas­ant but unquestionable fact that almost all such democracies, beginning with the Athenian and ending with the contemporary ones, have been based upon the severest exploitation of colonies and “spheres of influence” or have consisted of a vast layer of semifree and un-free population many times larger than the full-fledged citizenship of such democracies.

Likewise an “enlightened self-interest” and utilitarian “rationality” have been growing ever since the thirteenth century, without being accompanied by any decrease of war. One of the reasons for this is the fact that from a deeper standpoint this self-interest turns out to be a blind egotism, and utilitarian “rationality” a most irrational illusion. Util­itarian rationality is defined as the use of the most efficient means for the realization of an end desired. Typically, it has in view only the rationality of the means, and it neglects the rationality of the ends. The present war, which uses the most efficient and scientific means available for the defeat of the enemy, is perfectly rational from this standpoint; so also is the activity of a gang of efficient mur­derers, armed with the best techniques of murder, which is never caught or punished. These considerations show clearly that the truly rational action is that in which the ends as well as the means are rational. An action that uses rational means to irrational ends is particularly irrational. For this reason the utilitarian rationality of our society cannot re­gard war or revolution as irrational, and still less is it able to achieve the abolition of both.

Likewise, without this framework, the pan­aceas suggested for the eradication of crime, rioting, revolution, and civil war cannot be effective. These irrational phenomena will re­main and may even grow in spite of the pan­aceas, just as they have remained and grown during the centuries of the domination of modern culture. Notwithstanding the fact that these panaceas have been applied with especial liberality in the twentieth century, the glaring fact remains that neither crime, rioting, nor revolution has decreased; nor has the family become any better integrated; nor have suicide and mental disease declined; nor has the in­tensity of the interindividual and intergroup struggle for existence diminished; nor, if we can measure happiness by the movement of suicide, has man become any more happy. If anything, the objective results have been exactly opposite to what might be expected from the application of the panaceas.

The net result of the preceding analysis is that the suggested framework of the new cul­ture, society, and man is not the manifestation of a preacher’s complex, nor is it the “im­practical” indulgence of an armchair philoso­pher in his pet preoccupation, but rather is it a most practical, scientific, and matter-of-fact indication of the necessary conditions for a realization of the objective — a lasting peace. Without it, all the other means to building a temple of lasting peace and order are bound to be impotent or will only produce even bigger and more terrible wars and revolutions.

3. Prospects

To this conclusion may be raised the objec­tion that the new sociocultural framework is itself unrealizable and Utopian. If such an ob­jection were valid, it would only mean that an enduring peace is impossible. In that case all rational persons should stop fooling them­selves and others with the Utopia of a mankind without war, bloody revolution, and crime and should resignedly accept them as inevitable in {p. 521} the same manner in which we accept death. However, after a careful scrutiny, the objec­tion turns out to be far less axiomatic and unquestionable than it appears at first glance. In other words, the chances for a realization of the new framework, with the enduring peace that it implies, are not at all nil.

First, if mankind is going to live a creative life and is not going to sink either into the somnolence of “a benumbed and ruminating human herd” or into the tortuous agony of de­cay, the new framework is the only way that is left. The existing framework is so rotten and is progressively becoming so destructive and painful that mankind cannot creatively and contentedly live within it for any length of time. If it cannot be replaced by the new framework, then the end of mankind’s creative history, in one of the two ways just indicated, is inescapable, and science, having invented its atomic bomb, will hasten it. But such a conclusion is not inevitable; in spite of the gravity of many of the great crises that have beset mankind throughout history, human beings have always been able somehow to create new forms of culture and society that have eventually terminated the crisis. For the present there is no unquestionable evidence that a new sociocultural renaissance is im­possible.

Second, the shift from a withered sensate culture to a form of culture somewhat akin to that just outlined has happened several times in the history of Greco-Roman, western, and certain other great cultures. If it has been possible of occurrence in the past, there is every reason to suppose that it can recur in the future.

Third, if the birth of the new culture were dependent entirely upon contemporary “util­itarian rationality,” its emergence and growth would be uncertain indeed. But fortunately such is not the manner in which one form of culture is ordinarily replaced by another. The replacement is usually a result of the historical process itself, of gigantic, impersonal, spon­taneous forces immanent in a given sociocul­tural framework; and only at a later stage does it become facilitated by truly rational forces that plan and endeavor to build the new cul­ture with all available scientific means. The spontaneous forces immanent in our modern culture have already brought about its phase of decline and crisis; they have already under­mined its prestige and fascination to a con­siderable degree; they have already alienated from it a considerable portion of the popula­tion; they have robbed it of most of its charms — its security, its safety, its prosperity, its material comfort, its happiness, its sensate freedom, and all of its main values. Not in the classroom but in the hard school of life millions of people are being incessantly taught by these forces an unforgettable and indelible lesson, comprehensible to the plainest human being, that the existing framework is going to give them “stones” and bullets instead of bread; gigantic destruction in place of creative construction; misery instead of prosperity; regimentation in lieu of freedom; death, mu­tilation, and suffering instead of security of life, integrity of body, or bigger and better pleasure. With these charms progressively evaporating, this modern culture of ours has no other great values by which to hold the allegiance of humanity. Like a pretty woman whose bodily charms have gone, it is destined to lose more and more the adherence of human­ity until it has been entirely forsaken and de­throned from its dominant position in favor of a different sociocultural framework. This point has about been reached by our culture. Its magnificent creativeness, its prestige, and its charms are about over.

Parallel with this defection of humanity from contemporary culture, the same spontaneous forces are generating and increasing the quest for a different sociocultural framework, one which is more creative and adequate and less destructive and painful. This quest is at the present moment the main item in the order of the day; almost everyone is busy with the problems of the future society and culture. Only a few, who nothing forget and nothing learn, still cherish ideas of a restoration of the past and a revitalization of a withered frame­work. The overwhelming majority understand —if not by calculation and logical analysis, then by plain horse sense — that that is impos­sible. They recognize the necessity of some framework different from that which we have now.

At this stage the truly rational forces enter the play and take a guiding hand in it. With {p. 522} all the available wisdom and knowledge and with a sense of supreme duty they endeavor to create various systematic blueprints of the new sociocultural framework, to test and im­prove them, rejecting the less adequate ones and perfecting the better ones. New plans with their philosophies, ideologies, and ways and means of realization, multiply, become more and more coordinated, more and more diffused, continually accumulate a momentum and an ever increasing legion of adherents, until they become a tangible social force. This force grows and in thousands of ways begins significantly to influence human mentality and conduct, science and religion, philosophy and ethics, fine arts and social institutions. The process is slow, develops erratically from day to day, and has many deviations, mistakes, and miscarriages of its own. Altogether, it takes several decades, even a few centuries, for its full realization. Sooner or later, however, it terminates in a dethronement of the socio­cultural framework that was previously domi­nant, and in a rise to ascendancy of the new framework.

In the case of our contemporary culture we have reached the point at which the rational forces are about ready to enter the play. To­gether with the spontaneous forces of the his­torical process itself, they may be able to create a new sociocultural framework that will be a rough approximation to the one outlined above. When this objective has been reached, the utopia of a lasting peace and order will become a reality. If this is not achieved, apoca­lyptic catastrophe is ahead.


[1] (“Sensate” is Sorokin’s term for the materialistic cultural orientation, one of Sorokin’s three main cultural types; see “Culture in Crisis: The Visionary Theories of Pitirim Sorokin” — JSU.)

[2] Irving Babbitt, “The Breakdown of Interna­tionalism” (a reprint from the Nation, June, 1915). p. 25.

[3] See a more detailed analysis of this new cul­ture, society, and man in my paper, “The Task of Cultural Rebuilding,” F. E. Johnson (ed.), World Order (New York, 1945).

[4] Cf. on rule of intuition further, Chapter 35.

[5] From 500 B.C. up to 1925 A.D. there were in the history of the Greco-Roman and western societies some 967 international and 1623 civil wars. Great civil wars were as bloody and destructive as big international wars. A mere replacement of international wars by civil wars does not give any decrease of war and increase o£ peace. Hence — the futility of a mere establishment of the world government, without the other conditions necessary for a real peace. Cf. on number of wars and revolutions Social and Cultural Dynamics, Vol. III.

The Significance of the Peshawar High Court Drone Ruling

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A Milestone in the History of Human Rights

In May of this year (2013), the Peshawar High Court, the highest judicial institution in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region, ruled that the deadly US drone strikes in  Pakistan’s Tribal Areas are illegal.

Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the case, declared the drone strikes to be illegal, inhumane, a violation of domestic and international law, and a transgression of the UN charter on human rights.

The Court also ruled that “The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future.”

Following the Court decision, cynical, ‘legal experts’ in the US dismissed it as unimportant and as carrying no weight.  In this they displayed unmitigated arrogance, and revealed the moral bankruptcy underlying the entire US, CIA-run drone campaign in Pakistan.

In fact, the Peshawar High Court ruling is a major milestone in the advancement of human rights.  If one takes time to read the ruling, one cannot help but be impressed with the lucidity of its reasoning and analysis.  Unlike the American legal analyses, this one demonstrates moral and intellectual integrity.

It is very significant, then, that this “little” Court in the remote regions of Pakistan has produced a legal document that is an order of magnitude better, on every important dimension, than the pro-drone justifications drafted by the American legal system – with its prestigious professors of law at Harvard, Duke University, and Georgetown, its White House legal advisors, John Yoo’s, and armies of paid legal analysts.

On the battlefield of Truth, Conscience, and Justice, the Peshawar High Court has defeated the US government.  For this I applaud them.  They have my respect as scholars of law and defenders of human rights.

This has significance far beyond the actual case of drone strikes.  It signifies that a great equalization is happening.  I refer to the new parity of peoples in all nations on the plains of truth and law.  No more can we think of a distinction between the “advanced nations” and those that are merely “developing” or “third-world.”

No.  By God’s goodness we have reached the point in the development of the human race where higher education and the resources necessary for scholarly and legal research are available to all.  The natural goodness and genius of each nation, no matter how poor economically, may now manifest itself.  A group of dedicated analysts and jurists in any part of the world, how matter how ‘remote’, may now issue truths that challenge the lies and complacency of the economic super-powers.

There are no longer any ‘third-world’ nations in the sphere of law and morality.  All nations are fully grown.

Would that I could remove the anger, frustration, anxiety, suffering and sheer terror of those affected by these strikes!  But I cannot.

I can, however, do this much: to suggest how there may be meaning in the suffering caused by these drones strikes.  Out of the crucible of this suffering and horror comes the advancement of human rights.  Right will prevail over might in the long run.  This will happen by a succession of steps like this – in which the people of the world learn to assert their rights using the legal means and institutions available.   It is by this kind of advancement that human beings will learn to achieve their objectives by law, not by war.

Therefore the Peshawar High Court are heroes of humanity, so are those innocent people in Pakistan who suffer because of these drones.  God bless them!

My suggestion to those in Pakistan would be this: continue to bring this matter before progressively higher judicial tribunals.  Be fully confident and believe in your mission.  Work with the power that comes from knowing that you are right, and that your actions truly serve a higher power.  Not for nothing is my blog named satyagraha.  This word, coined by Gandhi, has several interpretations, all featuring some conjunction of the “Truth” with “force” or “power”. But in this context it has a special meaning:  Truth itself is an insurmountable force for good.  Continue to promote Truth by laying out in plain and clear terms the case against drones, and why current US policies are illegal.

Written by John Uebersax

December 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Benjamin Wittes’ Argument Rebutted: Drone Warfare is Not Ethical and Effective

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Last month Lawfare co-founder and Harvard Fellow Benjamin Wittes participated in a formal debate hosted by the Oxford Union on the resolution, “This house believes drone warfare is ethical and effective.”

In his followup column, Benjamin correctly observes that embedded within the drone debate are several separate issues.  How many and what these specific issues are is a matter of opinion, but his list will do for starters:

  1. The platform question: Is the use of drones ethical and effective relative to other weapons given a decision to use force?
  2. The policy question: Should the United States be engaged in lethal targeting of terrorist suspects in countries like Yemen and Pakistan and under what circumstances?
  3. Platform/policy interaction: Does the availability of drones enable lethal missions we would otherwise eschew, and if so, do we consider that incremental enabling to be a good or an evil?

This sort of gradual refinement of issues and questions is exactly what needs to happen.  So kudos to him for this part.

The substance of his actual argument, however, is another matter.  Benjamin made the rather unenviable prospect of defending the “pro” position (drones are ethical and effective) somewhat more feasible by restricting his attention to the first issue above.  Nevertheless, even in that narrow sense, defending drone use is not the ethical slam dunk he made it out to be.  There are several important arguments against *any* use of attack drones, i.e., ethical and practical concerns that pertain to unique features of the drone platform:

1. Proliferation. Other countries (China, Iran, N. Korea) can easily build drone weapons. Does not our eager use of drones invite their use by other countries, perhaps even against the US and her allies? Would it not be wise now to foresee this imminent danger, and to proceed more slowly and carefully — if at all?

2. Operator remoteness.  The operator of a manned aircraft arguably has access to more contextual cues that enable him to discriminate combatants from non-combatants.   A remote drone operator is more likely to mistake civilians for militants, or to fail to notice cues that might alert to the presence of children.

3. Public sentiment and outrage. As the recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee of Farea al-Muslimi confirms, drone strikes produce greater public outrage than conventional military actions. For one thing, the drones circle for hours, creating a climate of general terror. Living in constant fear of ‘death from the skies’ is a pretty terrible thing.

4. Hygienic killing. Where do we draw the line on a killing technology which is so efficient and ‘hygienic’ that it is simply inhumane? The pilot of a manned attack aircraft has, arguably, some direct sense of the horror of his actions. Human conscience and feelings, a gut-level aversion to killing, still operate. But is this true for a remote drone operator in an air-conditioned office?  And what are the psychological effects on the drone operators themselves?

5. Manner of death. Another unique feature of drone strikes is that the faster-than-sound missiles strike their victims with no advance warning.  One second you’re walking around, the next you’re toast. The killed person has no time for final prayers, or even a moment to effect some degree of self-composure.  Christians, and I suppose Muslims as well, believe: (1) the human soul is immortal; (2) there is an afterlife; and (3) that preparing oneself for death may have some bearing on what happens afterwards.  I write this knowing that nobody dares to say such a thing today; I say it nonetheless — it should be said, and stated plainly: every human being has an inalienable right to last prayers.  When this issue is not even considered, we no longer have human beings killing human beings, but machines and a soul-less system killing human beings. The former is tragic, the latter hellish.

So we see that there is significant doubt that lethal drones can clear even the lowest ethical hurdle, namely whether the platform itself is ethical and effective. All the points above pertain uniquely to drone weaponry and raise major ethical concerns. Points 1 and 3 also address issues of efficacy: drone proliferation may ultimately harm US security, and outrage concerning their use may alienate potential allies.  In an expanded sense of the word “efficacy”, all points further testify to the special counter-productiveness of drones, inasmuch as the ethical problems they raise erode the moral fabric of US society; of what purpose is military defense if the result is debasement of the very principles we say we must fight to protect?

Clearly even more problems are evident when we consider the other issues Wittes mentioned, i.e., drone use Yemen and Pakistan, and whether having the ability to wage ‘cheap war’ increases the likelihood of military conflicts and “lethal missions.”

Written by John Uebersax

May 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Moulding a Nation’s Heart

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The magnificent paragraphs below must surely rank among the best writings of the Anglo-American peace movement.

Their history is interesting.  They come from a sermon delivered by the Rev. Richard Ramsden (1761–1831) of Cambridge on March 12, 1800, on the occasion of a General Fast associated with hostilities between Great Britain and Napoleon’s France. The  sermon made a great impression on the renowned jurist, Basil Montagu (1770–1851), who by chance happened to be in attendance.  Through Montagu they found their way into the annals of the British Parliament (London, 1814). Montagu later, describing the words as “abounding with deep thought,” quoted them in a letter to his friend, Sir James Mackintosh, which appeared in Mackintosh’s published Memoirs (Mackintosh, 1836).  There they were read by the eminent statesman William Gladstone (1809–1898), who quoted them in his book, The State in Its Relations with the Church (1841), remarking of them: “If there be no full record of this magnificent production, it does not speak well for the generation to which it was given.”  Possibly from the same source they also came to the attention of the American Unitarian minister, Abiel Abbot Livermore (1864–1934), who quoted them in his work, The War with Mexico Reviewed (1850, pp. 281), the prize-winning submission in an essay competition sponsored by the American Peace Society for the best review and analysis of the much hated Mexican-American war.  Still later we find them reproduced in an installment of A Christian Treasury (Bonar, 1878); there the author is simply given as ‘Old Christian’, marking the passage of these profound and edifying words to the realm of cultural lore.

Gladstone would be heartened to know that the sermon was in fact published – once shortly after its delivery (Ramsden, 1800) and later in a collection (Ramsden, 1827).

Based on an exegesis of the vision of the four beasts in the Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel, Ramsden likens the nations of the earth to great beasts of prey that fight against and seek to devour one another.  Nations are by nature amoral, just like lions and tigers: they have no innate law beyond that of self-interest.  We today might describe them as operating in a purely Darwinistic framework, governed by the rule of survival of the fittest.  This is the political universe of Hobbes, Machiavelli, and modern neoconservativism and realism.

Were this all to the story, it would be a bleak and nihilistic picture.  But Ramsden sees something more, and points the way to a solution suggested by Daniel 7:3-4.

[3] And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
[4] The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. (Dan 7:2-4; KJV)

Ramsden then proceeds explain how a “a man’s heart” may be given to nations, to soften and humanize them and mitigate their beastliness.  First he describes how, in God’s mercy, a human heart may come to a nation:

“It comes by priests, by lawgivers, by philosophers, by schools, by education, by the nurse’s care, the mother’s anxiety, the father’s severe brow. It comes by letters, by science, by every art, by sculpture, painting, and poetry; by the song on war, on peace, on domestic virtue, on a beloved and magnanimous King; by the Iliad, by the Odyssey, by tragedy, by comedy. It comes by sympathy, by love, by the marriage union, by friendship, generosity, meekness, temperance; by every virtue and example of virtue. It comes by sentiments of chivalry, by romance, by music, by decorations, and magnificence of buildings; by the culture of the body, by comfortable clothing, by fashions in dress, by luxury and commerce. It comes by the severity, the melancholy, and benignity of the countenance; by rules of politeness, ceremonies, formalities, solemnities. It comes by the rites attendant on law and religion; by the oath of office, by the venerable assembly, by the judge’s procession and trumpets, by the disgrace and punishment of crimes; by public prayer, public fasts; by meditation, by the Bible, by the consecration of churches, by the sacred festival, by the cathedral’s gloom and choir; by catechizing, by confirmation, by the burial of the dead, by the observance of the sabbath, by the sacraments, by the preaching of the Gospel, by faith in the atonement of the cross, by the patience and martyrdom of the Saints, by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost.”

He next describes what this heart does, or, in his words, “how its exercise, or affection appears,” and with particular attention to tempering the warlike tendency of a nation:

The exercise of a nation’s heart appears, in its imposing on its own ferocity restraints, in its submitting to checks on the levers and limbs of its strength, in its consenting to be one of the aggregate commonwealth of nations, in its conforming to a public, general law…. It appears in the sending and receiving of embassies, and in the forming of treaties of intercourse. It appears in allowing the soldier to judge of the pleas of humanity, in not putting to death the prisoner taken in battle, in alleviating the horrors of the prison, in healing the wounded enemy, in shewing the white banner, in signing of capitulations.


It deepens the lines of the impression, it has received. It goes to the temple before battle. It prays against the visitation of the sword, as a plague of God. It mourns over that, which it is about to take into its hands. It prays for forgiveness of the breaches of the public law, it has consented to be under, though not bound to such consent. In this sense it prays against its own ambition, injustice, and love of rapine. It appoints fasts before battle. It fasts against its own strength; it weakens itself, and then, so weakened, lies prostrate before the superior strength of God. It seeks in this humiliation and acknowledgment the anointing from above, before it descend on the plain to wrestle.

The human heart of a nation improves itself by promoting virtue:

Like the heart of a man, this heart of a nation inculcates on itself, what promotes the habit of its virtue. It brightens the polish, it has taken. It cherishes the science, law, and religion, by which its softness comes.

Finally, Ramsden describes whose responsibility is the moulding of this heart, or “from whom this heart takes its texture and shape”:

“Whence the heart of a nation comes, we have perhaps, sufficiently explained. And it must appear, to what most awful obligations and duty are held all those, from whom this heart takes its texture and shape, our King, our Princes, our Nobles, all, who wear the badge of office or honour; all priests, judges, senators, pleaders, interpreters of law; all instructers of youth, all seminaries of education, all parents, all learned men, all professors of science and art, all teachers of manners. Upon them depends the fashion of the nation’s heart. By them it is to be chastised, refined, and purified. By them is the state to lose the character and title of the beast of prey. By them are the iron scales to fall off, and a skin of youth, beauty, freshness and polish to come upon it. By them it is to be made so tame and gentle, as that a child may lead it….

“How ought they then to consider, what their temper and conduct are; how ought they to reflect, that by mistake, by folly, by rudeness, by bad example, by corrupt sentiment, by false philosophy, by heresy, by impenitence, by contempt of law and religion, by any sentiment or action, which is base, mean, or evil, they are fostering the brutishness of the nation, keeping up contention and strife throughout the world, encouraging war and shedding of blood, barring from God’s mercy their fellow men, the poor, their own dependants, their own sons and daughters, hindering the descent of the Holy Ghost upon earth, delaying the reign of him, who died to save and bless the world.

“How ought they to reflect on the guilt of such conduct, which is not confined to one little spot or corner, but reaches and touches by links, which go round the globe, the happiness, the refinement, the peace, the salvation of all mankind now living, and of all future generations. How ought they to reflect on the blessing and reward of a contrary conduct, which is ever contributing to banish to their own place, all malice, wrath, jealousy, envy, revenge, cruelty, which heaps coals of fire on every hard mass, and from iron brings out gold, from brass silver, from stones gems; the gold, the silver, and the gems, which form the walls, the gates, and the battlements of the last city to be built, the city of God and of his Christ.”


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Ed. Bonar, Horatius. The Christian Treasury. Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter & Co., 1872. (see p. 395).

Gladstone, William. E. The State in Its Relations with the Church. Fourth edition. London: John Murray, 1841. Vol. 1. Section 3.2.23. (see pp. 169-171).

Ed. Hansard, T. C. The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time. Vol. 28 (June 7 to July 30, 1814). Appendix. London: 1814. (see pp. 137-140).

Livermore, Abiel A. The War with Mexico Reviewed.  Boston: American Peace Society, 1850.

Ed. Mackintosh, Robert James. Memoirs of the Life of Sir James Mackintosh. Vol. 1. London: Edward Moxon, 1836. (see pp. 158-161).

Ramsden, Richard.  Reflections on War and the Final Cessation of All Hostility: A Sermon Preached before the University of Cambridge, on Wednesday, March 12, 1800, Being the Day Appointed for a General Fast. Cambridge: J. Burges, 1800.

Ramsden, Richard. War and the Final Cessation of all Hostility.  In: Richard Ramsden, D. D., Twenty-Six Sermons, London: 1827,  pp. 237-256.