War and Competition between States
As population began to outgrow the means of subsistence, which mankind had not yet learned to increase by artificial methods, primitive society was compelled to choose between the elimination of excess population, or the seizure of hunting grounds, or sources of agricultural supply, belonging to some neighbouring tribe. The strong again survived and the weak disappeared. But the new system of association was already securing a certain leisure and a degree of relief from the need for continuous effort. The more intelligent among the inferior powers seized their opportunity, and under the continual spur of the need of survival invented arms and methods of destruction which altered the natural balance of power. Victory inclined to their side, at least until the men of sinews had learned to profit by their superior wisdom and to imitate their skill.
But a second result had occurred in the meanwhile. Engines of destruction were as useful in the field as in actual strife, and an improved art of war soon decreased the numbers of the wild animals. Here was a novel stimulus, at least for those tribes whose strength was insufficient to dispossess a neighbour. Habits of observation and the creative faculty, responding to the motive of need, realised that decisive step on the road of progress which, once and for all, lifted humanity beyond the regions of mere animalism. For the systematic destruction which he shared with the beasts, and which limited his numbers to the natural means of subsistence, man substituted the productive industries and, by acquiring the power of indefinitely expanding the means of subsistence, stood forth lord of creation.
Great nations, amply furnished with all that is needful for the maintenance of life, now succeed the tribes of a few hundred individuals which snatched a precarious existence from vast territories. But the identical causes which made their rise possible placed these nations face to face with a new peril. Every advance was accompanied by fresh danger at the hands of tribes still subsisting by war and the chase. The spectacle of their wealth was irresistibly attractive, and the prospects of a successful foray, as measured in the expectation of loot, became more and more desirable. Nations, on the other hand, depending upon agriculture and those arts of peace, whose creation accompanies the growth of industry applied to production of the material bases of life, lost their ancient aptitudes for the practices of war and the hunting field, if only because they ceased to use them.
In these unequal conditions civilisation must have perished in the bud had not the same process which determined the substitution of agriculture for the chase manifested itself anew. Instead of murdering and robbing, one nation imposed itself upon, and exploited, another. A raid is a temporary expedient, and the renewed harvests of violence yield a continually diminishing crop. Lands of plenty returned to the desert from which they had been wrested, for the toiler lay dead in his furrow. But no sooner did the more astute spoiler of his neighbour comprehend the position than he devised effective means for perpetuating his supply, and even for increasing its yield. Those who had previously ravaged now conquered the land to possess it; where they had destroyed they enslaved, and the victim bought his survival by a surrender of the entire, or a part of, the nett profit of his labours.
The conqueror now became interested in protecting his sources of supply, and began to devise systems for the better exploitation of territories and of the populations which were enslaved. These systems are the first POLITICAL STATES, and their guarantee against further violation from outside was their subjection to those who had first seen the value of the new system. Thus was constituted a further pregnant advance, one whose natural process eventually guaranteed civilisation against the risks of destruction and a return to barbarism.
Competition between States in Process of Civilisation
No sooner did the exploitation of conquered territory and subject populations become general, with the consequent rise of Political States— of the States—than the conquering communities became involved in two other forms of competition. Certain particularly warlike tribes persisted in the practices of destruction and of pillage, while the States, as between themselves, sought every possible means of expansion.
Like the founders and proprietors of any other business, the owners of a political State desired to increase the profits of the industry from which they obtained a livelihood. They might achieve this either by increasing the nett yields of their enterprise, the exploitation of subjects, or they could expand, win new territory, and, in consequence, new subjects. But the first method required a degree of progress which was not realisable in a day: the labour of their employés had to be rendered more productive by better administration and by improved methods of exploitation. An enlarged measure of liberty, and the enjoyment of an increased proportion of their own earnings, must also be secured to the workers. Now the absolutism of those who owned the States, sanctioned by right of appropriation and conquest, no less than by the overwhelming superiority of organised power, allowed them to use their subjects as mere chattels. Natural cupidity allotted to this “human cattle” no more than the mere necessaries of existence, often far less, and it was only long and costly experience of the loss caused by their own greed which forced statesmen to recognise that the surest and most efficacious means of enlarging their nett profit—whether taken in guise of forced labour or as taxes, in kind or in money—was to encourage the producer to increase his gross output.
To obtain new territory and more subjects was comparatively easy. It was a conception appealing naturally to the spirit and capacity of a conquering caste, and it appears, in every age and in all cases, as the first, often the sole, aim of their political system.
But there were latent consequences in this race for territory and subjects to exploit, which the competitors never guessed. The owners of a State, liable to total, or partial, dispossession at the hands of a rival, maintained their position subject to neglecting none of the many activities which consolidate and guarantee the integrity of a political association. They had to learn that the perfection of the material, art, and personnel of armies, is of little value when unaccompanied by a similar development of political and civil institutions, of the fiscal and economic systems.
Everywhere and in every age, it is this form of competition which stimulated men to perfect the institutions of politics and war, of the civil, fiscal, and economic State. Always and in all ages, also, the more progressive communities—those which develop their destructive and productive institutions to the highest degree—become the strongest and win the race. Our earlier volumes have seen this process at work. We have seen that improved agents of destruction advance production by continually enlarging its outlets. The security of civilisation has been assured neither by the arts of peace nor yet by those of war, but by the cooperation of both.1
Decline of Destructive Competition
Since profit is the motive of war no less than of all other human actions, an alliance between the arts of production and destruction soon lessened the inducement which prompted tribes to live by pillage and violence alone. Raiding a civilised community became less and less profitable as the art and matériel of war came to require a moral force, an amount of knowledge and capital, which only civilisation can command. Expeditions, undertaken for the sake of pure pillage, therefore ceased to return those enormous profits which had made them the favourite occupation of barbarian hordes. Tribal incursions tend to bring no profit, or to secure such hazardous and unsatisfactory returns that what was hitherto a rule becomes increasingly rare, occurs only on the most distant and least guarded frontiers, and is finally abandoned. Then the old order is reversed, for the civilised State becomes the aggressor, subdues the barbarian, and occupies his place. This expansion of civilisation at the expense of the uncivilised began many centuries ago, and when its motive is naturally exhausted—probably within the present century—the cause of many wars will have passed away.
Indeed wars, undertaken on this account, are already of secondary importance, since they seldom call for the exercise of more than a most insignificant portion of the resources of a State. It is when State meets State that the full power of modern military equipments is seen, and these occasions are the grand motive of their establishment. So immense and so costly is this apparatus that there is scarcely a State which does not expend upon its upkeep more treasure, more labour, and even more intelligence, than is allotted to any productive industry, agriculture alone excepted.
It has always been difficult to define the actual profits derived from a war, but, until the integrity of civilisation was finally ensured from barbarian aggression, these profits were of two kinds. Every conqueror in war is rewarded with material gains and moral satisfaction, but victory in those times likewise secured a higher degree of security. This better security of civilisation was the measure of its advance in the arts of war, for war was its s
Article from Mises Wire