'Every road towards a better state of society is blocked, sooner or later, by war, by threats of war, by preparations for war'.


'Ends and Means'

The blocked road
If what you want to achieve is good, does it matter if the things you do to achieve it aren't good? That problem - 'do the ends justify the means?' - has been debated by thinking human beings for a very long time. Aldous Huxley used it to provide a title for 'Ends and Means', a collection of essays about us: human beings and their behaviour.

This book was published in 1937, when it was clear to many worried people that the world was heading towards another world war. Aldous Huxley was a lifelong pacifist, but it was in the 1930s that he was a particularly active one. He spoke at public meetings and debates, organised events, wrote pamphlets (you can read one on this website), and joined the PPU's campaign to put an end to war. He was already a famous writer; and 'Ends and Means' sold 6,000 copies within days of publication. It is still respected today.

As Huxley says at the beginning of 'Ends and Means', most people in our civilisation have agreed on what they want: a world of 'liberty, peace, justice and brotherly love'. But what they haven't been able to agree on is how to get it. The rest of his book is about why that is so and what might be done about it.

There is a whole chapter on the subject of war alone. That's not surprising: 'Every road towards a better state of society is blocked, sooner or later, by war, by threats of war, by preparations for war'. Now, in the 21st century, the roads are still blocked. It's time we paid attention to Aldous Huxley's wake-up call.

A great deal of what he says is either still true, or prophetic: he wouldn't be surprised by the state of the world today, though he would certainly be saddened by it. But there's still time to learn from the man called 'one of the great culture-heroes' of his time.

Here is a summary of what Aldous Huxley wrote about war in 'Ends and Means'.

The nature of war
'War is a purely human phenomenon'. What's more, 'man is unique in organising the mass murder of his own species'. Some people still suggest that war is 'nature's way' of culling our species. The fittest will survive, and so therefore will the human race. Nonsense, says Huxley: 'war tends to eliminate the young and strong'; there's no evidence to show that war-like people are the ones who survive. 'War is not a law of nature, nor even a law of human nature. It exists because men wish it to exist....It is enormously difficult for us to change our wishes in this matter; but the enormously difficult is not the impossible.'

Sadly, all western civilised societies, so far, have been warlike. Huxley suggests that this tendency began when groups of people gathered round leaders, mostly men, who wanted domination and even a kind of life after death: the hero's 'immortal fame'.

But it's interesting, Huxley remarks, to see how differently various civilisations have regarded war. 'Europeans have always worshipped the military hero' and have found 'justifications for national aggression'. Not so the Chinese, who aspired to 'an ordered and harmonious society' for many centuries. 'It is one of the tragedies of history that the Westernisation of China should have meant the progressive militarisation of a culture which, for nearly 3,000 years, preached the pacifist ideal.' In India, however, Buddhists still learn and teach 'ahimsa': 'doing no harm' to living beings. 'Alone of all the great world religions, Buddhism made its way without persecution, censorship or inquisition. Its record is enormously superior to that of Christianity, which made its way among people wedded to militarism.'

Some causes of war
Huxley suggests a number of reasons why people have wanted war to exist. For some, it has provided a purpose which their lives lacked. Others, tempted by crime, have found the lawlessness of war attractive. For many it has, quite simply, made life more interesting. But these are the reasons of non-combatant civilians; and they belong to the past, when wars were carried out by relatively small professional armies on, mostly, distant battlefields. Armies in the field and non-combatants back home were not yet threatened by the weapon that changed war for good: the bomber aircraft.

Nowadays the causes of war affect both soldiers and civilians. Nationalism, for one. People 'like to have excuses to feel pride and hatred'; military leaders like to have excuses to use their men and machines. The making and owning of armaments itself leads to war, creating 'fear, suspicion, resentment and hatred' between countries. Such feelings are also aroused by people's desire to spread and defend political - or religious - ideals.

Politically powerful minorities, pursuing their own interests, also take their countries into war. They may be looking for new territory on which to build, or for raw materials (precious stones, minerals, oil, trees) to exploit. But the most dangerous minority interest is, again, the arms trade. To make and increase their profits, arms makers and dealers may be tempted to do whatever they can to ensure that wars take place - and that disarmament never does. 'What is needed,' says Aldous Huxley firmly, 'is the complete abolition of the arms industry'. And, he says, it is possible: simply, 'abolition will come when the majority wish it to come.'

Which means we, the citizens, have to think about our own attitudes. 'The manufacturers of armaments are not the only merchants of death. To some extent we all are.' In western democracies, who votes for governments dependent on arms trade taxes? The people do. Who consents to government's 'economic, political and military imperialism'? The people do. That's not all. 'Even in so far as we behave badly in private life we are all doing our bit to bring the next war nearer.' The rich and powerful among us, of course, do more than a bit: 'the peace of the world has frequently been endangered in order that they might grow a little richer.'

The experiment that failed
The League of Nations was founded in 1919, after the First World War. Its aim was to preserve international peace and security, and it hoped to do that by preventing disputes, or at any rate settling them peaceably, and promoting disarmament. In 1937, Aldous Huxley wrote sadly that the high hopes placed in the League of Nations had been disappointed. He suggests several reasons why the League failed to achieve world peace. One was that the USA refused to join, and Russia and 'enemy' nations (such as Germany) were at first kept out. But its chief fault, in Huxley's view, was that the only eligible members were communities which had their own armies: it was a league of societies which were organised for war, and as such a military league. He also criticised the ways in which the League operated, including providing outside military help to a victim of aggression.

'No government,' says Huxley, 'has the right gratuitously to involve its subjects in war.' Indeed: 'War is so radically wrong that any international agreement which provides for the extension of hostilities from a limited area to the whole world is manifestly based on unsound principles. Modern war destroys with the maximum of efficiency and the maximum of indiscrimination, and therefore entails the commission of injustices far more numerous and far worse than any it is intended to redress.'

'Those who prepare for war,' he says grimly, 'in due course get the war they prepare for.'

(The League of Nations was replaced after the Second World War by the United Nations. It could be said that hopes have been disappointed there, too.)

An international police force?
A misleading term, says Huxley. 'The police act with precision; they go out and arrest the guilty person. But nations and groups of nations act through their armed forces, which can only act with the maximum of imprecision, killing, maiming, starving and ruining millions of human beings, of whom the overwhelming majority have committed no crime of any sort.' He, perhaps not consciously, foresees the time when people refer to 'collateral damage' instead of 'civilian deaths', or use such contradictions in terms as 'peace-keeping troops': 'We shall never learn to think correctly unless we call things by their proper names. The international police force would not be a police force. It would be a force for perpetrating indiscriminate massacres.'

In any case: 'How is such a force to be recruited? How organised? How armed? Where located? Who is to decide when it is to be used and against whom? To whom will it owe allegiance and how is its loyalty to be guaranteed? How can nations be persuaded to contribute men and materials to it? Should their contributions be equal? If not, and a few great powers supply the major part, what is to prevent those powers from establishing a military tyranny over the whole world?' The idea of such a force, says Huxley with scorn, 'combines all the moral and political vices of militarism with all the hopeless impracticability of a Utopian dream'.

(But despite Huxley's warnings, the world's states have chosen to place their faith in international forces, deployed all over the world and in some places for decades. We have also seen the development of poorly-controlled local militias moving in to carry out policing functions with violence. appalling brutality and little respect for human rights. And 'military tyranny'? - for all the talk of good versus evil, and of 'humanitarian' aims, that tyranny is there.)

Peaceful settlements that last?
Huxley has no doubt: 'War cannot be stopped by more war. All that more war can do is widen the area of destruction and place new obstacles in the way of reaching a just and humane settlement of international disputes.'

In Huxley's day, just as in ours, procedures and skills for negotiation, co-operation and reconciliation existed. But, as he says, 'a machine may be exquisitely ingenious and of admirable workmanship, but if people refuse to use it, or use it badly, it will be almost or completely useless. This is the case with the machinery of peaceful change and international co-operation. Wherever "national honour" and "vital interests" were concerned, governments have preferred to threaten or actually make use of violence. Even in cases where they have consented to employ the machinery of peaceful settlement, they have sometimes displayed such bad will that the machine has been unable to function.'

'Wherever we turn we find that the real obstacles to peace are human will and feeling, human convictions, prejudices, opinions. If we want to get rid of war we must get rid first of all of its psychological causes. Only when this has been done will the rulers of the nations even desire to get rid of the economic and political causes.'

The chapter of 'Ends and Means' called 'War' ends with a description of how nationalism, communism, religion and other 'idolatries' can give people a misleading sensation of meaning and purpose. People have been ready, as a result, mistakenly 'to make sacrifices, accept hardships, display courage and fortitude - and indeed all the virtues except the primary ones: love and awareness'. Without these crucial qualities - genuine humaneness and caring - we are doomed to stay on the wrong road, the road that leads to violence and war.

In his next chapter, 'Individual Work for Reform', Huxley makes it clear that a peaceful future depends on what private individuals - you, me, us - do on our own, or, better still, in groups. He begins with a reminder: 'the only effective methods for carrying out large-scale social reforms are nonviolent methods. Violence produces the results of violence. The attempt to impose reforms by violent methods is doomed to failure'.

In fact, 'society cannot become better unless peace can be firmly established and the prevailing obsession with money and power profoundly modified.' Huxley knows that's a tall order. 'Governments are not willing to undertake these tasks', for a start. Nor are many private individuals prepared to tackle them on their own. 'If the work is to be done, it must be done by associations of individuals' with the vision and energy 'to break the new ground that nobody else will break'.

To give us some encouragement Huxley goes on to give some examples of what has already been achieved by nonviolent action - you can find examples of these and many more on this website. 'Nonviolence is so often regarded as impractical, or at best a method which only exceptional men and women can use. It is essential to show that - even when used sporadically and unsystematically - the method actually works.' Huxley adds (with some characteristic bite) that nonviolence 'can be used by quite ordinary people and even, on occasion, by those morally sub-human beings, kings, politicians, diplomats and the other representatives of national groups, considered in their professional capacity.... Out of business hours these beings may live up to the most exacting ethical standards.'

Huxley was well aware that technology was here to stay. 'The question is whether it is to stay as an instrument of slavery or as a way to freedom.' 'Curing the world of obsession with money and power' needs to be done in the modern world; but even a modern hi-tech world can be humane.

So: Huxley's ideal 'associations of individuals' should set about making experiments to solve a number of problems. How can the working population be effectively self-governing? How can they bring a sense of responsibility and commitment to what they do? How can the temperaments and talents of each individual be best used? How can the wealth created in a technological society be best distributed? What is the best kind of communal government? What are the best kinds of local communities? What are the best ways of using leisure? What is the best education for children and self-education for adults, and how may both be got? And how can natural gifts of leadership be used without 'the temptation of ambition or the lust for power'?

Another tall order. And other, new, problems have arisen in western society since the 1930s. But the aim - the 'end' - is sincere and true: start with individual people and build a life, a community, a world, in which we want not only peace but also the things which make peace possible. The belief that underpins all that Aldous Huxley has to say is simple: 'It is enormously difficult to change; but the enormously difficult is not the impossible.'


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