Chapter XXIV Part IV
The Need of Military Unification
Democracy and War
It is believed that democratic states are hesitant to make war with each other. It is a fact that unlike totalitarian governments, there have been no instances of democracies killing their own citizens en masse. Both domestic violence and foreign violence are inversely related with democratic institutions. Democracies being pluralistic accommodate dissenting voices and a build-up of escalation can get constrained or diluted. Though the first statistical research to validate this concept was published by Dean Babst, a criminologist in 1964, it was as early as the 1700s when Immanuel Kant, the legendary philosopher and Thomas Paine, political theorist commented on how constitutional republics would ensure perpetual peace. In the middle of the 19th century, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville argued that democratic nations were less likely to conduct war with each other. However democracies as we know today are recent phenomena and even in 1900, there was no independent state with universal suffrage. Hence it would be naive to jump at the conclusion that democracies would always be pure harbingers of peace.
Sri Aurobindo in 1917 echoed the same concerns. He wrote: ‘The supposition is that democracies will be less ready to go to war than monarchies; but this is true only within a certain measure’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 478-479). He also describes that democracies are actually ‘bourgeois States in the form either of a constitutional monarchy or a middle-class republic’ (Ibid, pg 379). Truly, it is the upper middle class with cultural and financial capital who represent the bourgeois and not the proletariat who rule democracies. It is thus not surprising that ‘everywhere the middle class has taken over with certain modifications the diplomatic habits, foreign policies and international ideas of the monarchical or aristocratic governments which preceded them’ (Ibid). The erstwhile USSR was no exception and had in fact taken from the Czars habits and ideas with little modification , harbouring expansionist trends and eyeing the possession of Constantinople; while ‘in Germany it was the aristocratic and the capitalist class combined that constituted the Pan-German party with its exaggerated and almost insane ambitions’ (Within a year of this write-up by Sri Aurobindo, Adolf Hitler met Heinrich Class in 1918 and the stage would soon be set up for sharing pan-German visions with the Pan-German league though there would be rivalry between the two groups).
It is believed that democracies are hesitant to go at full-scale war with each other due to their pluralistic nature and capacity to harbour conflicting voices and divergent view-points. However the bourgeois controlling the democracies are more motivated by commercial expansion rather than territorial expansion and wars are also averted if perceived to clash with commercial interests. Thus it is not only peace for the sake of peace but peace in the interest of not spoiling commercial interests that might motivate bourgeois democracies not to fight each other. Sri Aurobindo writes: ‘The monarchical or aristocratic State is political in mentality and seeks first of all territorial aggrandisement and political predominance or hegemony among nations, commercial aims are only a secondary preoccupation attendant on the other. In the bourgeois State there is a reverse order; for it has its eyes chiefly on the possession of markets, the command of new fields of wealth...and on political aggrandisement only as a means for this more cherished object’ (Ibid).
It would be natural therefore for the bourgeois statesman to weigh multiple options to avoid a war that could spoil commercial interests or would drain away hard-earned capital. The monarchical statesman would immediately resort to war if diplomacy failed, the bourgeois statesman would bargain with a longer rope to diplomacy. The latter would only resort to war if every diplomatic effort failed and there was a strong speculation of a sure chance of success or solid profit.
Sri Aurobindo however makes a terse yet strikingly meaningful observation: ‘..the bourgeois-democratic State has developed a stupendous military organisation of which the most powerful monarchs and aristocracies could not dream. And if this tends to delay the outbreak of large wars, it tends too to make their final advent sure and their proportions enormous and nowadays incalculable and immeasurable’ (Ibid, pg 480). This statement made in 1917 in the aftermath of World War I not only gave an inkling of World War II but remains portent in the 21st century.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu