Ethics and Politics of War

Posting Forum 1

Read the definitions of pacifism and realism The seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes is well known as the classic advocate of “realism” and the realist conception of human nature and society. Human nature, Hobbes claims, is essentially self-centered, greedy, power-hungry, and competitive. Although everyone claims to want to live peacefully and contentedly, our natural drive for more money, possessions, and status—often at the expense of those around us—results in our living in perpetual conflict with our neighbors, friends and family. Often this conflict is subtle and unstated rather than open and obvious, but it is nonetheless always present in human relations. Thus, our natural state as human beings is inevitably one of constant personal, social, and international conflict. Hobbes states, “… the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary,” and, earlier in the paragraph he says, “it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man” (Leviathan, Chapter XIII, paragraph 8). Because people are naturally contentious, greedy and power-hungry, societies and nations must impose authoritative laws and punishments on their citizens in order to keep everyone from constantly threatening one another’s lives and possessions. However, since nations are made up of and governed by these same contentious people, and there is no authoritative law preventing nations from threatening one another, nations can only prevent constant fighting, invasions, and reprisals, by arming themselves and being perpetually prepared for war (so that every nation is hesitant to attack every other nation for fear of counter-attack).

In contrast, the well-known philosopher and peace activist Mohandas Gandhi advocated a largely pacifist view regarding war and conflict, based on the Hindu principle of non-violence (or ahimsa). Unlike Hobbes, Gandhi claimed that human beings are naturally (spiritually) kind, sociable, and compassionate. People naturally want and seek to live in harmony and cooperation with others, and the negative qualities that Hobbes and other realists see as natural to human psychology only arise in circumstances in which people feel threatened and forced to defend themselves. People only become hostile to and competitive with others when they begin to fear that other people are this same way and are a threat because of it. This mistrust and fear thus causes people to become hostile, which then leads them to arm themselves against each other, which in turn causes further mistrust and creates the vicious-cycle of perpetual conflict that Hobbes describes. Thus, the problem is not—as the realists claim—that people are naturally hostile and must protect themselves from each other, but is rather that they are naturally peaceful and only become hostile when they mistakenly begin to believe otherwise. “It is the law of love that rules mankind,” Gandhi claims. “Had violence, i.e., hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago. And yet the tragedy of it is that the so-called civilized men and nations conduct themselves as if the basis of society was violence” (Gandhi on Non-Violence, p. 59).

So for Hobbes and the realists, war is an inevitable aspect of the human condition, and we can only prevent war by constantly preparing for it. If each person or nation shows others that they don’t trust them, are prepared to fight them, and won’t let their guard down, then everyone will be sure to respect everyone else’s sovereignty.

For Gandhi and the pacifists in contrast, we are naturally peaceful but create the conditions for war by believing the self-perpetuating myth that war is inevitable. If we assume that others are hostile toward us and act accordingly, we create mistrust and conflict and it is only a matter of time before open conflict inevitably breaks out. However, if we assume that everyone wants to live together peacefully and act accordingly, we will all treat each other well and live together harmoniously.

1.Which of these positions do you think is more valid? Explain why.
2.What examples from history, current events, psychology, or philosophy might support your opinion?


  1. Which of these positions do you think is more valid? Explain why.

If we are in fact discussing society as a generalization of the population then yes, pacifism is a more valid understanding of society. However, societies tend to be lead by those who have a more realistic view. Personally, I agree with both statements. I believe humans are a complex species. Most people are good natured, yet they can also be selfish. There is no such thing as a perfect human because a human has imperfections. We learn and grow wiser. And our experiences help shape the people we become. All in all, I agree more with Realism. I have personally seen more people being morally good for a selfish reason, then I have seen people be selfish for a morally good reason.

  1. What examples from history, current events, psychology, or philosophy might support your opinion?

I believe every historical event can back up my claim. From Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, even the American Revolution. People want power and they have gotten it by revolting against the powers that be. The winners of such events tend to celebrate their victories by writing the history books. Which normally tends to place them on the side of morality. The Civil War for example, was not fought because of slavery. It was fought because Southern States believed Northern States were taking advantage of the Monetary returns made by the Southern States. The President at the time, Abraham Lincoln, gave rights to the slaves so that they could help the North fight the South. In today’s time however, we consider Abraham Lincoln the man who freed the slaves, but we tend to forget why. In any war anyone has ever been in, both sides believe they have the Moral High Ground due to the fact that people tend to be selfish and one sided. Clans, Nations, and Empires rise and fall, but selfishness remains eternal.