Origins and History of the Passions of War


Those who attempt to conquer hatred by hatred are like warriors who take weapons to overcome others who bear arms. This does not end hatred, but gives it room to grow. But, ancient wisdom has advocated a different timeless strategy to overcome hatred. This eternal wisdom is to meet hatred with non-hatred. The method of trying to conquer hatred through hatred never succeeds in overcoming hatred. But, the method of overcoming hatred through non-hatred is eternally effective. That is why that method is described as eternal wisdom.

Siddhārtha Gautama 1997 Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War by Barbara Ehrenreich

In BLOOD RITES, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the mystery of the human attraction to violence: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking? BLOOD RITES takes us on an original journey from the elaborate human sacrifices of the ancient world to the carnage and holocaust of twentieth-century “total war.” Sifting through the fragile records of prehistory, Ehrenreich discovers the wellspring of war in an unexpected place–not in a “killer instinct” unique to the males of our species but in the blood rites early humans performed to reenact their terrifying experience of predation by stronger carnivores. Brilliant in conception, rich in scope, Blood Rites is a monumental work that will transform our understanding of the greatest single threat to human life. 2020 Canadian Reader 4*
religion-spirituality, anthropology, history, war, nonfiction, social-science

This is a reissue of Ehrenreich’s stimulating 1997 book, in which the author synthesizes the work of anthropologists, historians, and evolutionary biologists (among others) to explore the religious feelings that war inspires in humans. She’s particularly interested in the question of “sacrifice,” which is not only central to many religious traditions but also invoked in descriptions of military service and the deaths of servicemen. Blood sacrifice—including human sacrifice, notes Ehrenreich, is a key theme in Jewish and Christian texts. In the Old Testament, along with the mention of the innumerable animals killed as offerings to God, we have the story of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son Isaac; in the New Testament, the Christian deity sacrifices his son Jesus. Before war became “a widespread and massive enterprise,” humans likely approached the transcendent through socially sanctioned ritual killing. The transgressive nature of the ritual inspired awe.

War is often explained as a means for men to advance their collective interests: to gain resources and geopolitical advantage. Following Freud, others regard war as a product of deep aggressive instincts in humans. Ehrenreich points to the ways in which war, like religion, appeals to psychological needs: It releases people from emptiness, submerses them in great causes, and promises unified purpose and longed-for community—needs otherwise fulfilled by love, religion, intoxication, and art. Quoting French historian and social scientist Rene Girard, the author also notes that war and ritual sacrifice likely served a similar end: damping down disruptive, aggressive energy by redirecting it towards an external focus.

According to Ehrenreich’s account, the roots of both religion and war lie in early hominid vulnerability to and primal fear of predation by wild beasts. She suggests that two to three million years ago, when our African ancestors moved out of the forest and onto the savannah, they were threatened by large cats. Being hunted and eaten by lions and leopards was the original human trauma. However, early man developed a taste for meat and may well have had an “ambivalent relationship” with the beasts that killed but also provided for human scavengers.

Nowadays we think of animals as pets or commodities for consumption, but Ehrenreich writes that they played an outsize “vivid and active”—godlike—role in the primitive mind. She suggests that early people’s fear of predatory animals contributed to the development of religion, noting that many archaic deities were carnivores or human-animal hybrids. Think of the lion-headed ancient Egyptian goddess of war, Sekmet, the jackal-headed god of death, Anubis, and the Hindu gods Ganesha and Hanuman (who take the forms of an elephant and a monkey respectively). The original form of the huntress Artemis—the ancient Greek goddess who is believed to predate the Olympians—was that of a bear or a lioness. In mythology and folklore, animals morph into humans and gods possess the ability to transform themselves into animals.

The driving force behind natural selection for humans’ large brains may well be attributed to our ancestors’ need to defend themselves against powerful predators. Language may have its roots in alarm calls, fire’s original value may have been more for warding off beasts than for cooking them, and hominids may have evolved into social creatures because groups were more successful than individuals in resisting predators. Humans may have made their first (ritual) sacrifices to placate the wild animals that outnumbered them. Perhaps the loss of a child by predation was more tolerable when it was framed as a “sacrifice” that prevented further terror and victimization. Eventually, by making animal and human sacrifices, man could show he had, through the development of hunting tools, gained a position at the top of the food chain, elevating himself from prey to predator. Over time, ritual sacrifice also became “apotropaic”—an action aimed at warding off evil in the form of spirits, enemies, or disease.

Ehrenreich postulates that war grew out of prior conflicts with animals. In early human groups, males guarded against predators and eventually hunted hoofed mammals. Around 10,000 years ago, animal populations decreased as a result of humans developing and using hunting implements (bows, arrows, and spears). As humans turned from pastoral to agricultural ways, hunters found themselves out of work, and a redirection of male energy was necessary. Conditions supported the rise of a warrior class that defended settlements against other opportunistic groups of humans. According to some scholars, the earliest systematic wars grew out of nomadic peoples’ raiding of settled agricultural communities, not just for goods but for objects of prestige that could enhance status.

Ehrenreich shows how the formation of a male warrior class shaped civilization through the ages. The terror and destruction that warriors could inflict on the enemy “other” could also be applied to their own people, keeping them in line, subservient and dedicated to meeting fighters’ needs. Lower classes were in part made up of conquered peoples.

Ehrenreich examines how the newer, more universalist religions—Christianity and Buddhism—impacted the practice of war. She also considers the ways in which advancing technology—particularly guns—allowed warriors to fight at a distance, on the ground (rather than on horseback), and in ever increasing numbers. Large armies contributed to the rise of the bureaucratic state, which collected taxes to fund the troops. Meanwhile, revolutions—the French and American, in particular—encouraged the new religion of nationalism. No longer were wars fought to gain captives for sacrifice, young men could sacrifice their lives for their country, be martyrs of a sort for the nationalist cause.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Ehrenreich’s a rich and fascinating book. I gained a lot from it, but I was also aware that it’s 23 years old, particularly as I reached its conclusion, which focuses on the then-fairly-recent Gulf War, the turmoil in the former Yugoslavia, and the increasing enlistment of women in the US military. Since that time, we’ve had 9/11, wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the rise of the Islamic State. Drones are common. The threat of nuclear war has reared its head again—this time from North Korea. Cyber and germ warfare loom. While I understand why an author would not feel inclined to re-immerse herself in subject matter she’d explored years before, I nevertheless lament that an afterword/update was not included to address more recent developments on the world stage. Even so, I do recommend this book.

articles etc 3-2022 The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War by Nicholas Mulder
2022 review by Mathias Fuelling

Russia invaded Ukraine in the early morning hours of February 24th and came under immediate international condemnation. As a result, widespread sanctions against Russia have gone into effect, including the extreme move to kick Russia out of SWIFT, the international system that regulates and makes possible bank transfers around the world. These measures threaten to cripple the Russian economy in a radical way by going beyond the specific targeting of imports, exports, and high-level individuals. Instead, the whole Russian economy is placed under threat. The result is that the United States is neither at war nor at peace with Russia.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has catalysed a wave of historical prognostication and self-reflective punditry in the West. On the cover of TIME magazine, ‘the return of history’ was ominously announced by the advance of Russian tanks. Sidestepping such grandiose claims, the Western turn to sanctions actually points to a significant continuity in the international system. Sanctions have long since become a byword for international action taken against states that violate the so-called ‘rules based world order’, largely under the direction of the United States. US-directed sanctions exist against dozens of countries, most notably the comprehensive sanctions regimes against Iran, Cuba, and North Korea. Sanctions—the stick used to discipline short of war—form a key part of the modern toolkit of international governance. Given their significance and especially in light of recent sanctions against Russia, it is striking that there has been relatively little historical inquiry into them. Where did sanctions come from? How did they become so important in global politics?

With his new book The Economic Weapon, Nicholas Mulder sets out to answer these questions with a timely, pathbreaking history of sanctions that sheds new light on the interwar period, liberal ideology, the nature of fascism, and the consolidation of American world power. Mulder locates the origin of modern sanctions in the response of the Allied powers to Germany in the First World War. Mulder argues that sanctions first emerged in the economic blockade against Germany from 1914 to 1919, enforced by the British Navy in the North Sea to prevent goods from entering via sea. The blockade risked causing mass famine and was consequently a decisive factor in the German surrender. Mulder links the blockade to the abortive growth of the interwar liberal order attempted by the Anglosphere after the war. In the eyes of British liberal officials who were responsible for it, the blockade against Germany proved that no economy could stand alone in a globalised world. If an international system of cooperative nations could agree to economically isolate a state that engaged in hostility against its neighbors—and in essence shut off all imports and exports—that state would face unbearable pressure. Financing and providing for a war effort as well as providing basic goods and services would be impossible. The state would fold, cease its hostilities, and peace would be restored, all without a shot being fired—or so the theory went. The blockade was thus called the ‘economic weapon’ by its British architects. This weapon came to be seen by British liberals as a central mechanism in the preservation of world peace—one that was to be placed at the heart of the budding League of Nations.

This novel weapon was more than just another policy tool. Its adoption also meant that the officials in charge of it had to view the economy in a certain way, ordering and shaping it so that it could be controlled and manipulated. To shut off a flow of water, one must first channel it and attach a spigot to it. The economy at-large was thought of no differently. Mulder opens his first chapter with a wonderful account of the mineral manganese, which played a key role in the global economy of the early 20th century as an alloy for the manufacturing of steel. In the blockade against Germany, it was essential to prevent its import. However, controlling the flow of manganese was a daunting task, which involved the manipulation of railways in Asia, manganese mines in Brazil and the Caucasus, and shipping lanes across the Atlantic. The irony is that British liberals, ostensibly committed to the cause of free trade—which they believed would bring peace and world order—had to engage in forms of economic planning and economic ordering which went against their free trade principles in order to make the blockade, and later the economic weapon of sanctions, work. This makes The Economic Weapon an important work for opening up new paths in the history of liberalism and its conceptions of international order and the global economy. Mulder joins a growing body of historians—including most prominently Quinn Slobodian with his work Globalists and Adam Tooze with The Deluge—who are challenging received wisdom about the interwar period as a time of liberal failure. For these historians, the ideas and policies of liberal internationalists in the First World War and interwar period were ultimately great successes that established the roots of our current neoliberal period.

The spectre of the economic weapon throughout most of the interwar period remained just that: a threat and a fear but rarely an implemented policy (with one exception in the mid-1930s when Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia). But Mulder shows that the consequences of this fear were serious. Indeed, fascist regimes and their leaders repeatedly expressed concern over what a sanctions regime could do to their economies. Faced with a liberal economic order concentrated under Anglo-American control, which seemed capable of isolating any other state at a stroke, fascist states concluded that the only alternative was to achieve economic autarky. They would need to create states large enough to not be reliant on the outside world. This is another irony shown in Mulder’s work. The major liberal powers that were in charge of implementing sanctions, in the name of preventing war, were themselves autarkic powers best placed to survive sanctions in any case: the United States, the British Empire, and the French Empire. It is no wonder that some political actors—faced with liberal imperial autarkies that dictated the structure of the global economy—concluded that they too needed to establish autarkic empires if they did not want to end up as subordinate states. Italy, for instance, was facing League of Nations’ sanctions in the mid-1930s for its invasion of Ethiopia and consequently suffered such a severe balance of payments crisis that the state was forced to confiscate precious metals from its people to bolster its gold supply. The Italian people had little choice but to turn in wedding rings and family heirlooms to be melted down into legal gold tender. Against this nightmare scenario, the fear of sanctions led fascist economic thinking to conclude that autarky through imperial conquest was the only means with which to ensure survival. It is easy to be a liberal regarding the global economy when you already have a state achieved through conquest and colonial violence.

We see a current example of the tension between economic autarky and interdependence with China today. To further its hegemonic ambitions, China has pursued two policy tracks of preventing a potential sanctions regime against it. Firstly, it has made itself too indispensable to be cut out of the global economy (like Russia today), due to the intertwining of the foundations of global manufacturing in China. Simultaneously, it is also pursuing its own grand global economic program in Asia and Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative, forging global economic ties outside of a direct relationship with the United States and Europe. Both are in pursuit of the assurance that a severe sanctions regime cannot be placed on China without the global economy itself going under. The logic of autarky lives on, not through state attempts to become entirely self-sufficient through domestic resources alone, but through state positioning to become indispensable to the functioning of the global economy as a whole. For China, economic independence is guaranteed by its ever more important position in both supporting and making possible economic globalization.

Mulder closes his book with an analysis of the Lend-Lease program run by the United States during the Second World War. Over the course of its involvement in the war, the United States delivered, adjusted for inflation to today, hundreds of billions of dollars in aid and supplies to Allied nations,

you tube 3-2022 Soll die Ukraine kapitulieren? Hat Precht recht? – Christian Rieck

Der Philosoph Richard David #Precht empfiehlt der #Ukraine zu kapitulieren und löst damit einen Sturm der Entrüstung aus. Es wird hier ein spieltheoretisches Modell vorgestellt, das seinen Gedanken analysiert. Zudem nenne ich die Ergebnisse einer Befragung, in der ich untersuche, wieso es einen so großen Widerspruch gegen die Aussagen Prechts gab. Ich bitte um Entschuldigung, dass der erwähnte Text noch nicht fertig ist. Falls Sie sich dafür interessieren, dann sehen Sie bitte in ein paar Tagen nochmal vorbei.

In der Zwischenzeit könnten Sie stattdessen mein Buch über Kriegslisten (Strategeme) lesen: Die 36 Strategeme der Krise: Print:… – Kindle:… – wenn Sie die Umfrage sehen wollen (Sie können auch jetzt noch mitmachen):… 2021 On Nationalism – by Eric J. Hobsbawm

quodlib Eric Hobsbawm Nations_and_Nationalism_Since_1780

Eric Hobsbawm’s brilliant enquiry into the question of nationalism won further acclaim for his ‘colossal stature … his incontrovertible excellence as an historian, and his authoritative and highly readable prose’. Recent events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics have since reinforced the central importance of nationalism in the history of political evolution and upheaval. This second edition has been updated in the light of those events, with a final chapter addressing the impact of the dramatic changes that have taken place. It also includes additional maps to illustrate nationalities, languages and political divisions across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 1991 Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality by Eric J. Hobsbawm; Nation and Narration by Homi K. Bhabha – Review by: John Dickie