From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia


  IT is one among the numerous moral phenomena of the present times that the inquiry is silently yet not slowly spreading in the world—Is War compatible with the Christian religion? There—was a period when the question was seldom asked, and when war was regarded almost by every man both as inevitable and right. That period has certainly passed away; and not only individuals but public societies, and societies in distant nations, are urging the question upon the attention of mankind. The simple circumstance that it is thus urged contains no irrational motive to investigation: for why should men ask the question if they did not doubt; and how, after these long ages of prescription, could they begin to doubt, without a reason?

  It is not unworthy of remark, that while disquisitions are frequently issuing from the press of which the tendency is to show that war is not compatible with Christianity, few serious attempts are made to show that it is. Whether this results from the circumstance that no individual peculiarly is interested in the proof,—or that there is a secret consciousness that proof cannot be brought,—or that those who may be desirous of defending the custom rest in security that the impotence of its assailants will be of no avail against a custom so established and so supported,—I do not know: yet the fact is remarkable that scarcely a defender is to be found. It cannot be doubted that the question is one of the utmost interest and importance to man. Whether the custom be defensible or not every man should inquire into its consistency with the moral law. If it is defensible, he may, by inquiry, dismiss the scruples which it is certain subsist in the minds of multitudes, and thus exempt himself from the offence of participating in that which, though pure, he “esteemeth to be unclean.” If it is not defensible, the propriety of investigation is increased in a tenfold degree.

  It may be a subject therefore of reasonable regret to the friends and the lovers of truth, that the question of the moral lawfulness of war is not brought fairly before the public. I say fairly; because though many of the publications which impugn its lawfulness advert to the ordinary arguments in its favour, yet it is not to be assumed that they give to those arguments all that vigour and force which would be imparted by a stated and an able advocate. Few books, it is probable, would tend more powerfully to promote the discovery and dissemination of truth than one which should frankly and fully and ably advocate upon sound moral principles the practice of war. The public would then see the whole of what can be urged in its favour without being obliged to seek for arguments, as they now must, in incidental or imperfect or scattered disquisitions: and possessing in a distinct form the evidence of both parties, they would be enabled to judge justly between them. Perhaps, if, invited as the public are to the discussion, no man is hereafter willing to adventure in the cause; the conclusion will not be unreasonable that no man is destitute of a consciousness that the cause is not a good one.

  Meantime it is the business of him whose inquiries have conducted him to the conclusion that the cause is not good, to exhibit the evidence upon which the conclusion is founded. It happens upon the subject of war, more than upon almost any other subject of human inquiry, that the individual finds it difficult to contemplate its merits with an uninfluenced mind. He finds it difficult to examine it as it would be examined by a philosopher to whom the subject was new, He is familiar with its details; he is habituated to the idea of its miseries; he has perhaps never doubted, because he has never questioned, its rectitude; nay, he has associated with it ideas, not of splendour only, but of honour and of merit. That such an inquirer will not, without some effort of abstraction, examine the question with impartiality and justice, is plain; and therefore the first business of him who would satisfy his mind respecting the lawfulness of war, is to divest himself of all those habits of thought and feeling which have been the result, not of reflection and judgment, but of the ordinary associations of life. And perhaps he may derive some assistance in this necessary but not easy dismissal of previous opinions, by referring first to some of the ordinary causes and consequences of war. The reference will enable us also more satisfactorily to estimate the moral character of the practice itself; for it is no unimportant auxiliary in forming such an estimate of human actions or opinions, to know how they have been produced, and what are their effects.

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