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Warburg, B. (1933). Warum Krieg? Ein Briefwechsel (Is War Necessary? an Exchange of Letters): By Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Paris: Internationales Institut für geistige Zusammenarbeit, 1933. 62 p.. Psychoanal Q., 2:607-614.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Warum Krieg? Ein Briefwechsel (Is War Necessary? an Exchange of Letters): By Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Paris: Internationales Institut für geistige Zusammenarbeit, 1933. 62 p.
As a member of the Institute for Cultural Coöperation, and in the interest of the League of Nations, Einstein briefly formulates the problem of war both from the point of view of causation and prevention, and invites Freud to discuss the human motives which have made warfare an integral part of the development of mankind. Einstein states that a better understanding of the structure of the underlying psychological motivation is essential if there is to be an answer to the question: "Is it possible to free mankind from the unfortunate fatality of war?"
Summarizing the present situation, Einstein points out that although it is universally recognized that the technical development of war has reached a point which threatens the very future existence of civilized man, the most ardent efforts to solve the problems involved have failed to an appalling degree. It is possible "for the states to create a legislative and judiciary body to settle their conflicts. They bind themselves to accept its laws, to bring before the court any matters of dispute, and to abide by its decisions unconditionally, as well as to carry out any measures which the court considers necessary for the execution of its mandates". But, "a court is a human institution, prone to the suasion of extralegal influences in proportion to its lack of independent power to execute its decisions… Might and right are inseparably bound, and the verdicts of a legal body approach the ideal justice of a community …, only in so far as the community is able to mobilize the power to enforce respect for that ideal of justice."
At the present time we have no supra-state organization with unquestionable authority and with the power to enforce complete obedience to its judgment. International safety depends upon the unconditional surrender of absolute state sovereignty, and doubtless there is no other way to obtain it. The fruitless efforts of the last ten years have proven that powerful psychological factors have paralyzed all attempts to achieve this goal.
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The questions involved present themselves to Einstein as follows:
First, the will to power of the erstwhile ruling class of a state opposes the limitation of the rights of sovereignty. This need for political power is frequently sustained by another group, which desires individual advantages or regards war and its attendant constellations as a means for personal gain.
In the second place, how is it possible for the ruling minority to force the masses to serve a purpose which rewards them only with suffering and loss? Apparently because the erstwhile rulers control the schools, the press, and usually the religious organizations also, and in this way sway and guide the emotions of the majority, which then becomes a passive tool.
Third, why do the masses permit themselves to be inflamed to the point of madness and self-sacrifice by these means? It seems that hatred and destruction satisfy an innate human drive which ordinarily remains latent. Under abnormal conditions it can easily be aroused and intensified to the point of a mass psychosis.
This question is particularly called to the attention of Freud as well as the fourth, which raises the issue of whether it is possible to modify human psychic development in such a way as to produce an increasing resistance to these psychoses of hatred and destruction.
"This applies not only to the uneducated group, since it is the so-called intellectuals who appear to be more prone to mass suggestion, because of the very fact that they are less likely to derive their information from the direct experiences of life, and are more easily and more wholly accessible to the influence of the printed word."
In conclusion, Einstein briefly mentions the general problem of human aggression as it has arisen not only in international warfare, but also in civil, religious, or social wars. The emphasis, however, remains upon the problem of prevention.
Basing his reply on Einstein's approach to the subject, Freud first develops the theme of might and right, thus introducing his views on the other topics under discussion.
Right is the Derivative of Might
Might was, in the first instance, crude violence. Although violence appears to be the antithesis of law and order, right is nevertheless the derivative of might. Primitive men, like other
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animals, settled their differences by main force. "In the beginning muscular power decided to whom something belonged or whose will was to rule. Sheer brawn was soon augmented or displaced by tools, and that man won who had the better arms, or was the more skilled in their use. As soon as weapons were introduced intellectual superiority began to take the place of brute force. However the end-gain of the conflict remained unchanged: one of the two contestants was forced to give up his claims, or his resistance, because of the injury done him, or because of the ebbing of his strength. This can be most thoroughly accomplished if the opponent is permanently done away with, that is, if he is killed. There are two advantages in this—his opposition will not have to be dealt with subsequently, and his fate deters others from following his example. In addition, killing the enemy satisfies an instinctive inclination… The intention to kill can be opposed by the consideration that the enemy can be put to useful service if he has been intimidated but granted his life. In that case violence is content with his subjugation instead of his death. Herein lies the origin of sparing the enemy, but the victor must now count upon the lurking desire for revenge of the vanquished, so that he relinquishes a part of his own safety.
The original condition, then, was the domination of the greater power, that is, of crude force, or of violence supported by the intellect. We know that this regimen has been changed during the course of human development, and that there was a transition from might to right, but how did it take place? Only one possibility exists: through the realization that the superior power of one man could be balanced by the alliance of several weaker ones. 'L'union fait la force.' Violence can be overcome by union, and the power of the allies now represents the law, in contradistinction to the force of the individual. It follows that right is the might of the community. It is still violence, ready to turn against him who opposes it, to use the same means, and to serve the same purposes. The difference lies only in the fact that it is no longer the power of one man which asserts itself, but that of the community.
One psychological condition is prerequisite to the effectiveness of this transition from might to right: the alliance of the several must be stable and lasting… The community must be permanently maintained, must organize itself, create regulations which
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prevent threatening rebellions, and appoint bodies to watch over the observance of the laws and the execution of the legal acts of violence. By means of the recognition of such communal interests the members of a group establish the emotional ties and the common feelings upon which their strength depends."
Progressive changes in the law; the League of Nations
Difficulties arise due to the unequal strength of the members of any community, be they men and women, parents and children, victors and vanquished. Laws are made in favor of the rulers, who give their subjects as few rights as possible.
Changes in the law may be caused either by an attempt on the part of one of the masters to become a despot and to reëstablish the rule of might, or by the persistent effort of the oppressed to obtain equal rights. The latter instance results either in a gradual adaptation to the required level, or in a civil war, which in turn may lead to temporary suspension of the legal code, to rule by force, and finally to new codifications.
Although these conflicts cannot be avoided even in a single commonwealth, the necessity to live within a given territory tends to limit them, and the probability for peaceful settlement is steadily increasing. The history of mankind presents an uninterrupted succession of wars between one community and one or more others. Wars of conquest cannot be judged as an entity, since some were followed only by destruction, while others contributed to the conversion of might into right by creating larger units within which violence became impossible because of the effectiveness of a new code of laws. It was in this way that the Romans established the Pax Romana throughout the Mediterranean basin. Although it is apparently a paradox, the fact must be recognized that "War might not be considered an unsuitable means to create 'eternal peace', precisely because it would be a way to form large units within which a strong central power would prevent further wars." For many reasons this has not proven itself to be the case. "The actual result has simply been that mankind has substituted fewer and more comprehensive wars for perpetual petty warfare."
In regard to the present situation: "The certain prevention of war is possible only if the human race will agree to institute a central power which will pass judgment on all questions of dispute. Here two requirements are fused: that such a supreme court be
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created, and that it be given the necessary power." The one without the other is useless. The League of Nations is in the position of having no independent power. It can obtain it only if the members of the league will relinquish their absolute sovereignty. For the present there appears to be no such expectation. On the other hand, the league represents "a unique effort in human history to consider that the achievement of decisive authority rests not in the possession of power but in the appeal to certain conceptual ideals. We have seen that a community is unified by the compulsion of force and by the emotional ties of its members, which are technically called identifications. If one of these factors falls away it is possible for the other to maintain unity intact. But ideas have significance only when they express important common interests of the members of the community. It then becomes a question of their power… The Pan-Hellenic ideal, the consciousness of superiority over the surrounding barbarians, … was strong enough to modify warfare among the Greeks themselves, but was naturally not in a position to prevent conflicts between them, or even to keep a city, or a league of cities, from forming an alliance with the inimical Persians to the detriment of a rival. Nor did the bond of Christianity, strong though it was, prevent the large and small states of the Renaissance period from seeking the help of the Sultan in their wars against each other. There is no idea today in which such single authority could be vested, … and it appears that the attempt to substitute the power of ideas for real force is again doomed to failure. It is an error in judgment to overlook the fact that right was originally crude violence, and that it cannot even now survive without the support of power."
In answer to Einstein's third and fourth queries "Why is it so easy to inspire human beings to make war?" and "Is there an instinct to hate and destroy which welcomes this incitations?" Freud asserts that there is such an instinct. He postulates two types of innate drives, the erotic or sexual (in the psychoanalytic sense) and the destructive or aggressive. The one is as indispensable to life as the other, consequently the concepts of "good" and "bad" are irrelevant. Now it appears that an instinct of one sort rarely acts independently, but is always alloyed with another which modifies the original aim, or else, under certain circumstances, makes the desired end attainable. The instinct for self-preservation, for instance, is certainly erotic in nature, but it depends upon aggression
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for its achievement. It is precisely the problem of separating these two drives and their activities which has made their study so difficult. Human activity rarely deals with sexual and destructive drives alone. More usually several similarly directed forces must fuse to promote action. The willingness to fight may depend upon a variety of motives which may be lofty, mean, frankly outspoken or unmentionable. "The pleasure in aggression and destruction is certainly one of them." The satisfaction derived from these destructive tendencies is of course modified by others which are erotic and ideational in nature. "At times we are under the impression that idealistic motives have simply been a screen for the atrocities of history; at other times that they were more prominent and that the destructive drives came to their assistance for unconscious reasons, as in the cruelties perpetrated during the Holy Inquisition."
The destructive drive is present in each individual and seeks to reduce him to the state of inanimate matter. It is correctly called the death instinct, whereas the erotic drives represent the claims upon life. The deathinstinct is converted into the drive to destroy in that it is turned upon other objects than the self, in other words, the individual saves his own life by destroying something external to himself. A remnant of the deathinstinct persists in its activity nevertheless. It is unhealthy for too much aggression to be introjected, whereas turning these destructive drives against the outside world is actually a relief. "Let this be the biological excuse for all the ugly and dangerous strivings against which we struggle. They are more natural than the resistance we offer them. For this we must also find an explanation."
Aggression cannot be eliminated, but can be modified by the libidinal drives
"For our present purposes then, it is useless to try to eliminate the aggressive tendencies in man… The Bolsheviki hope to eliminate human aggression by the guarantee of material needs and the establishment of equality among the members of the community. This, to my way of thinking, is an illusion, since they are fully armed at the present time, and hold their party together chiefly through their hatred of all outsiders. Further, the question is not that of doing away with aggression altogether, but rather of diverting it so that there is no need to express it in warfare. If the
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readiness to fight is a discharge of the destructive tendencies, it follows that the libidinal instincts should be called upon to counteract them." The simple injunction "Love thy neighbor" is difficult to carry out, but the mechanism of establishing emotional ties through identification has proved itself to be a powerful one. The Utopian ideal would be that of a community whose judgment controls the instinctive drives. No other condition could create such a state of impermeable and complete unity. In the meanwhile the practical approach to the problem is confined to dealing with the dangers which arise by the immediately available methods. But, "it is unpleasant to think of mills which grind so slowly that one could starve before the meal can be had."
In conclusion Freud raises the question:
Why do we revolt against war instead of accepting it as a painful necessity?
Not only because every man has a right to live. War destroys men of promise, compromises the individual by forcing him into degrading situations, forces him to slay against his will, and also destroys the valuable products of human labor. Further, war at the present time no longer fulfils the heroic ideal of the ancients, and the means of destruction have become perfected to such a point that a future war might result in the extermination of either or both of the adversaries. All these conditions are so obvious that it is perhaps astonishing that warfare has not yet been repudiated by the common agreement of mankind.
"I believe that the main reason for our revolt against war is that we cannot feel otherwise. We are pacifists because we must be, and for organic reasons. It is then simple for us to justify our attitude by arguments. This is probably incomprehensible without an explanation. My reasoning is as follows: Since time immemorial cultural development has been superimposing itself upon mankind. We are indebted to it for our greatest achievements, but also for the greater part of our ailments. The cause and beginning of civilization is obscure and its outcome is uncertain… Perhaps it will lead to the extinction of mankind, since it invalidates the sexual function in more ways than one. Already the uncivilized races and the backward elements of the population multiply more rapidly than the highly cultured strata. Perhaps this process is comparable to the domestication of certain types of
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animals, since there is no doubt that bodily changes are involved. It is not a familiar concept that the development of civilization is such an organic process. The concomitant psychic changes are apparent and unequivocal. They consist in the progressive postponement of the gratification of the instinctive drives, and in their restriction. Sensations which were pleasurable to our ancestors, have become indifferent or intolerable to us. There is an organic basis for the change in our ethical and æsthetic demands. Two psychological characteristics of civilization appear to have the greatest importance: the increasing power of the intellect which begins to gain control over the instinctive life, and the introjection of the aggressive tendencies together with all their advantageous and dangerous consequences. Now war is repugnant to the psychic setting which forces the process of civilization upon us. It is revolting to us and no longer agrees with us. We pacifists do not simply harbor intellectual and affective objections, but we have a constitutional lack of tolerance (for war) comparable in all respects to a severe idiosyncrasy, and it seems that the æsthetic debasement of warfare, no less than our resistance to its cruelty, constitutes our opposition to it. It is difficult to say how long we must wait for others to become pacifists also."
Freud emphasizes the fact that he has not been called upon to make practical suggestions so much as to indicate the psychological considerations implied in the prevention of war. He hopes that it is perhaps no mere pipe dream that the combined forces of cultural development and the well-grounded fear of future wars will make an end of the warlords within a reasonable period of time. "In the meantime, we may say that whatever promotes the development of civilization also counteracts warfare."1
1 An English translation of "Warum Krieg?" has just been published under the title of "Why War?" by George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London.
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Warburg, B. (1933). Warum Krieg? Ein Briefwechsel (Is War Necessary? an Exchange of Letters). Psychoanal. Q., 2:607-614