NL XXX: War As the Breakdown of Policy

Index to this series

Humans have not always made war (30. 1); why do we make it now? War is said to be a continuation of policy (30. 14); but as Collingwood cleverly points out (30. 15), the saying due to Clausewitz (30. 69) is ambiguous: a continuation could be an extension or a breakdown (30. 16–17).

By the account in Chapter XXVIII, policy is itself ambiguous:

28. 5. Political action in its utilitarian form is called policy. A policy is a political end pursued by political means, or political means used in pursuit of a political end. The end is an object of will pursued by a ruling class: the means is an object of will pursued by a ruling class in order thereby to realize the end.

Intellectual happiness of the population might be a policy, pursued by the policy of providing public education at all levels. This is my proposed example; Collingwood himself will promote homeschooling in Chapter XXXVII, “Civilization as Education.”

The ambiguity in the term policy is like the ambiguity discussed back in Chapter VII. This is the ambiguity of a word like selection, which can mean either (1) an act of selecting or (2) what is selected. Such “double usage of a single word” is “very common in English and all other European languages from Latin onwards” (7. 32). I want to dwell on this point, because I think it helps show how Collingwood must be read, if all of his emphasis on dialectic is not enough.

Collingwood comments that the aforementioned “double usage” is “perplexing only to a person who knows none of these [European] languages.” I take this diatribe to be aimed at those of his professional colleagues who give us

that numerous and frightful offspring of propositional logic out of illiteracy, the various attempts at a ‘logical language’, beginning with the pedantry of the text-books about ‘reducing a proposition to logical form’, and ending, for the present, in the typographical jargon of Principia Mathematica.

That is from An Autobiography (pages 35–6, footnote). A logical language would have no ambiguity. Collingwood has already described it in the earlier Principles of Art (page 259):

The aim of this technique [of logic] is to make language into a perfect vehicle for the expression of thought. We may explain its nature and purpose by means of a preamble followed by a resolution: ‘Whereas the aim of persons who use language in good faith is thereby to express their thoughts; and whereas this aim is now frustrated by the inaccuracies and ambiguities besetting the ordinary use of language; Now therefore let it be resolved that all such persons do in future express their thoughts by the use of certain linguistic forms, to be known as “logical forms”.’

The reader should understand, or come to understand, that such a resolution would be ridiculous.

Aristotle first systematized what we call logic (24. 56). In An Essay on Metaphysics (page 3, footnote), Collingwood says something about why we call it that.

We say ‘logic’, not ‘logics’, because there is no Aristotelian treatise τὰ λογικά. There is, however, a group of works collectively called τὰ ἀναλυτικά, and from this we have in English ‘analytics’.

By Collingwood’s account in The Principles of Art (page 261), while Aristotle was concerned with inference, the “modern analytic logician” is concerned with “content”:

He, too, is interested in polemics; but his method is based on the conception of error as due not to syllogistic fallacies, but to confusa cognitio. He therefore manoeuvres for a position in which he can say: ‘You are wrong to maintain this view; for in asserting it you are simultaneously asserting five different propositions, a, b, c, d, and e; now you will agree, when you look at them separately for yourself, that a, b, c, and d are true, but that e is false.’

Polemics are eristic. It’s in the words: πόλεμος is war, and ἔρις is strife, or the goddess of this. Eristic is suggested by the title of “The Refutation of Idealism,” where G. E. Moore does what Collingwood has just been talking about; for Moore says,

Suppose we have a chain of argument which takes the form: Since A is B, and B is C, and C is D, it follows A is D. In such an argument, though ‘B is C’ and ‘C is D’ may both be perfectly true, yet if ‘A is B’ be false, we have no more reason for asserting A is D than if all three were false. It does not, indeed, follow that A is D is false; nor does it follow that no other arguments would prove it to be true. But it does follow that, so far as this argument goes, it is the barest supposition, without the least bit of evidence. I propose to attack a proposition which seems to me to stand in this relation to the conclusion ‘Reality is spiritual.’…

The trivial proposition which I propose to dispute is this: esse is percipi

In An Autobiography, when he talks about being at Oxford as a student (page 22), Collingwood mentions Moore’s article:

But though I called myself a ‘realist’, it was not without some reservations. An important document of the school, or rather of the parallel and more or less allied school at Cambridge, was G. E. Moore’s recently published article called ‘The Refutation of Idealism’. This purported to be a criticism of Berkeley. Now the position actually criticized in that article is not Berkeley’s position; indeed, in certain important respects it is the exact position which Berkeley was controverting. In order to see this, I had only to open the article and Berkeley’s text and compare them.

I have not read Berkeley since I was a student, and this is one reason why I am only an amateur at what I am doing now. Collingwood ridicules Moore’s “refutation” further in The Principles of Art (pages 198–9), where he says,

In each act we sense a colour, a sound, a scent, or the like, which can be present to us only in our performance of the corresponding act. As soon as the act is over, the sensum has vanished, never to return. Its esse is sentiri.

Objection may easily be raised to this last phrase as an overstatement. ‘Naturally’, it may be said, ‘we cannot see a colour without seeing it. But what could be more absurd than to argue that, because we have stopped seeing it, the colour has ceased to exist? For all we know, colours may perfectly well go on existing when we are not looking at them.’ The objection is an excellent example of ‘metaphysics’ in the sense in which that word has at various times become a term of merited abuse. For all we know, chimeras may bombinate in a vacuum, and a hundred angels stand on the point of a needle. And there is a kind of pleasure to be got by indulging in these metaphysical fairytales, somewhat like the pleasure of talking nonsense. It is the pleasure of allowing an overstrained and jaded intellect to kick up its heels without a load on its back. There is also a pleasure to be got by philosophical thinking; but a very different one.

According to a footnote on the passage in quotation marks, “I paraphrase Professor G. E. Moore, ‘The Nature and Reality of Objects of Perception’, in his Philosophical Studies, pp. 31 seqq.”

I mean to do philosophical thinking here. I am going to suggest an inconsistency in Collingwood’s argument about war; but I have no notion of calling this a refutation. In the passage that I quoted from “The Refutation of Idealism,” Moore is using the methods of my own professional subject, in a place where they do not fit. It is in mathematics that one weak link in the chain of an argument is enough to send us back to the drawing board.

We try to clear up ambiguities in mathematics, as they are pointed out. Unfortunately I don’t think too many mathematicians are interested in distinguishing whether a single letter like a or x is being used as a variable or a constant, or whether a formula like x ∈ B is being used as a sentence or as a noun phrase. It may not be possible to clear up all such ambiguities, at least while one’s research is ongoing. Still, freedom from ambiguity is a mathematical goal.

Poetry is different. By Collingwood’s account, still in The Principles of Art (page 260), logic itself is based on several principles, and one of these is “homolingual translation,” whereby

one sentence may have precisely the same meaning as another single sentence, or group of sentences taken together, in the same language, so that one may be substituted for the other without change of meaning.

If you rewrite a poem in different language, you get a different poem. As I write about Homer concurrently with Collingwood, I find it important to note that I am also writing about Chapman. I have also noted the fallacy that you can distil a poem (including a novel) down to an essence, which itself can be written down.

I may nonetheless by trying to distil the essence of the New Leviathan. Philosophy is not poetry, but neither is it mathematics or natural science. By the account of Bertrand Russell in the Introduction of A History of Western Philosophy,

Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge—so I should contend—belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology.

Russell does not try to say what he means by science, except that he means it “in its broadest sense.” I suppose this sense includes both inductive and deductive science. As I pointed out in the last Collingwood post, the follower of Aristotle will understand theology as metaphysics. Another term of Aristotle for the same thing is first philosophy. Instead of using Russell’s description, I propose to consider philosophy as intermediate between mathematics and poetry.

Consider philosophy as we will, we are trying not to win a debate, but to respond to the rise of what is called fascism. Again, we cannot just attribute it to a “pugnacious instinct,” because if there were such a thing, it would have prevented our forming societies and bodies politic at all (29. 8).

Again, the formation of these things is by dialectic. In general terms, this means the conversion of non-agreement into agreement (30. 22). The conversion is never complete (30. 24). “The positive element in the dialectic of society is
called harmony” (30. 23); in internal relations of a body politic, law and order (30. 25); in external relations, between bodies politic, peace (30. 27). War is thus the breakdown of policy (30. 28).

30. 47. War is due, not to political strength, but to political weakness. It happens because men encounter problems in external politics which they have not the political ability to solve; that is because they have failed to solve the antecedent problems of internal politics; that again is because they have failed to solve the problems of social life.

Everything comes back to society. Since we can form societies, we must know how to engage in dialectic; therefore we know how to make peace. This begs the question of whether we can prevent war, since war is now traced to a failure in the dialectic of society.

“If you can’t keep your subjects quiet, says the Tyrant’s Handbook, make war” (30. 36). The reason why you cannot keep your subjects quiet is that you, the ruling class, are at loggerheads with one another. “If one section of the rulers pulls one way and one another, especially if this inner disharmony goes so far that one faction massacres or otherwise forcibly suppresses the other, such disharmony seriously diminishes their ability to rule” (30. 37).

Collingwood’s example of political disharmony is the British House of Commons on November 12, 1936, when Prime Minister Mr Baldwin said,

Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and we must rearm, does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have rallied to that cry at that moment!

The speech is on Wikipedia. Collingwood quotes Baldwin’s next sentence:

30. 43. ‘I cannot’, said he, ‘think of anything that would have made the loss of the [future general] election from my own point of view more certain.’

30. 44. To paraphrase: Mr. Baldwin would have liked to ensure peace for his country by making it too strong to be attacked by a declared enemy which, he knew, was preparing for war.

30. 45. He could not do that because he was politically too weak: so he steered the country into a war which he rightly regarded as the inevitable outcome of his action, a war to be fought under grave disadvantages against a well prepared enemy: because what he called ‘this pacific democracy’ would have it so.

War cannot be eliminated once for all. As I suggested before, there are no short-cuts and no excuses. “Political visionaries propose from time to time that ‘the causes of war’ should be removed. It cannot be done. They can only be counteracted by incessant efforts to promote a dialectic of external politics” (30. 39).

It was observed in the last chapter that two bodies politics inevitably fail to agree, simply because they are different (29. 55). Non-agreement is the contradictory of agreement, and the dialectic of external politics works to convert the former into the latter (29. 5). This may fail:

29. 53. Non-agreement may be hardened into disagreement; in that case the stage is set for an eristic in which each party tries to vanquish the other; or, remaining mere non-agreement, it may set the stage for a dialectic in which each party tries to discover that the difference of view between them conceals a fundamental agreement.

Evidently disagreement is to be considered the contrary of agreement, though Collingwood does not say so in so many words. He does however observe that the kind of disagreement called war is the contrary, and not the contradictory, of the kind of agreement called peace (30. 97).

The only real pacifist argument against war is that it cannot bring peace nearer (30. 96). This would be true if war were the contradictory of peace; but again, it is not, it is the contrary. This may sound like a word game; but the key distinction is there in the terms, in the diction. Contradictories say opposite things, but at least they are saying something: there is language, and so dialectic is possible (28. 18).

Contraries are simply opposed. It is being debated now whether Steve Bannon can be debated. If, as would seem, he is not interested in finding agreement, then there is no point in debating him, unless it can weaken him in the eyes of his followers; and this should be possible, at least as I understand a Twitter thread by Jason Stanley of September 5, 2018:

Here are my thoughts on the Bannon–New Yorker debacle. My first thought is that I would never venture an opinion without checking my knee jerk reactions with people who have spent significant time in white nationalist movements and have inside knowledge of their goals.

So I reached out to @mcaleer of @lifeafterhate and checked my knee jerk reactions with him. I left our conversation with some of my reactions intact, and some shattered. I did leave convinced that it is important to face Bannon in public. Ignoring him is no longer an option.

However, the risk is very high. Losing the debate would be an utter disaster, a massive victory for white nationalists. One would have to be absolutely certain that one could clearly win, even by the lights of his intended audience. This is a high standard.

As usual, who wins the debate would be decided not by reason, but by complex rhetorical issues. Frame control is a lot of the battle. Here, I am skeptical that a debate between Remnick and Bannon in NYC at the New Yorker Festival, in front of “cosmopolitans”, is the right venue.

I have trouble seeing how this wouldn’t come across as a David and Goliath frame among white nationalists. And Bannon is smart and well-versed in his narrative. All he would have to do is repeat his narrative in the “den of lions”, and this would be a victory.

So yes, let’s take on fascist ideology. But let’s do so by consulting first with experts on this ideology, those who know it from the inside, to understand the social meaning of the venue, the frame, the structure, etc. This is a very high risk endeavor.

Mythological narratives are being constructed right now. We must shatter them. But I suspect this would be extraordinarily difficult to do in a debate in front of a bunch of “globalists” attending the “New Yorker Festival” in Sodom and Gomorrah, uh, NYC.

Let’s by all means enter the fray by debate; we must challenge these ideas somehow, it’s past the time when we can ignore them. But it is a grave mistake to underestimate one’s opponents. And it is an error to think these debates will be won by the force of reasons.

So, at the risk of having a nuanced view, it is—yes, Bannon must be somehow debated, but wow what a terrible idea of a venue. And please consult with experts on this stuff.

Having in mind the fascists of his own time, Collingwood ends his chapter:

30. 99. War serves the cause of peace, and is therefore politically justified, when it is the only available method of discouraging a people who are individually the victims of their own emotions, and collectively a prey to the tyrannous but popular ‘rule’ of a sub-man whom they hail as a superman, from pursuing abroad an aggressively belligerent policy, the natural extension of the tyranny to which they are accustomed at home, and forcing them to realize that the only way to prosperity at home is through peace abroad.

In a footnote, Collingwood has discounted the pacifist argument that appeals to the Gospel. Jesus Christ knew that he and his followers lived under the Roman Empire; by saying, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” he included foreign policy among those things.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted September 7, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    I am currently traveling in a country where I am not able to get access to twitter to read your tweets about philosophy and history. But fortunately I can still read your articles here in this website. Thank you for your wonderful commentaries on R. G. Collingwood’s thoughts and other great books!

    Cheers,
    dushu

9 Trackbacks

  1. […] « NL XXX: War As the Breakdown of Policy […]

  2. […] The two ends of political life are society and nature (32. 22). Society is the positive end, in the sense of being what politics tries to bring about (32. 28). We are effectively spelling out a remark from two chapters ago: […]

  3. By NL XXIX: External Politics « Polytropy on September 13, 2018 at 3:52 am

    […] theme will continue in the next chapter, “War As the Breakdown of Policy.” Meanwhile, let us recall Collingwood’s cited paragraph and others from Chapter XXIV, […]

  4. […] contradictory is barbarity […]

  5. […] is not cruelty (35. 78). The former would seem to be the contradictory of civility, and so a remnant will persist in the civilizing community. This remnant could involve […]

  6. By NL XXXVII: Civilization As Education « Polytropy on September 20, 2018 at 7:48 am

    […] biggest part of the answer so far, unless one counts the rejection of pacifism in Chapters XXIX and XXX. For Collingwood, writing during an actual war, this rejection may have been more immediately […]

  7. By NL XL: Peace and Plenty « Polytropy on September 25, 2018 at 8:46 am

    […] political problems can be solved only by a perfect ruling class (30. 48), […]

  8. By NL XLI: What Barbarism Is « Polytropy on September 27, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    […] Medium, July 5, 2018. It is about one of the new types of Yahoo that the world is always breeding (30. 86). Rushkoff himself has a civilized […]

  9. […] (26. 17), as “mutually independent and hostile entities” (26. 19). In Chapters XXIX and XXX, Collingwood warned against pacificism; we might call this a false abstraction of civility. […]

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