Essay on War by Christopher Dawson

An interesting essay by Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), one of the great historians of the 20th century. His Essay on War, published around 1937, comes out of the turbulent decade when Hitler was beating the drums of war and many in England, still in shock from WWI, wanted peace at any price. It gives a broad overview of the history of Catholic attitudes towards war. He writes:

“This heroic conception of war, as the condition of man’s highest achievement, is one which the modern pacifist finds it hard to consider seriously…But however unreal and unfashionable that conception may be today, we must not forget that it has been held with complete honesty and conviction in the past, and not only by the Greeks…It is, in fact, the normal or classical attitude, and it is the unheroic or comic attitude to life and death which is exceptional, since it is found as a rule only in highly sophisticated literary circles or in a rich and self-confident commercial society.

The Fury of Achilles, Painting by Charles-Antoine Coypel

And if we turn to the Catholic tradition and consider the Christian attitude to life and the Christian view and peace and war, we shall, I think, find that there has been a much greater affinity with the heroic ideal of the ancients than with the liberal idealism of moderns…”


He concludes:

“What we want are not pacifists but peacemakers. Peace is made not by denouncing war but by ‘agreeing with your adversary quickly while you are in the way with him,’ and by doing one’s best to understand the mind and traditions of other peoples.”

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