This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
These considerations have most important economic bearings; but their political significance is still greater. In the first place, they destroyed the vast supremacy which England had held up to that time. Her previous preparations and accumulations of war-ships were almost annihilated at a blow: and the nations were thus left to commence together a new race of competition. In the second place, the immense appropriations hitherto made for naval purposes must, if the competition is to be kept up, be increased tenfold; and since, as we have just shown, all the principal nations of the civilized world are deeply involved in debt, it becomes a very grave and embarrassing question, by what means, and out of what resources, all these new expenditures are to be met. Besides, the question may well be started, whether invention and discovery in regard to military and naval engineering and architecture have arrived at their ne plus, so that there is no danger that all these now extraordinary means of destruction will not be superseded by others as much in advance of these as Enfield rifles are in advance of the old flint firelocks. Such, fortunately or unfortunately, is the condition and aspect of the war system to-day. To the political economist, as well as the practical statesman and financier, it must be a matter of serious consideration whether the time has not come when new and improved ideas of international intercourse are not quite as desirable as new engines of human destruction; whether the important events to which we have referred, do not suggest a different policy from that which has prevailed in the past.
To take the United States as an example: The national debt, when consolidated, will not be less than three billions, the interest of which will be at least one hundred and eighty millions. To this must be added the vast pension list which a four-years' war has created. To this still is to be added the immense amount which is sure to be awarded for claims on the government for spoliations and damages occasioned by the operations of war. And if we are to enter into competition, under the present policy, for iron-clads, monitors, land fortifications, and standing armies, we must have an enormous addition to our current expenses. Of necessity there must be a very heavy and constant taxation to meet all this, and that, too, with no prospect of paying off the debt.
The war debts of modern times are not paid off, and never will be, until the policy of increasing preparations for war is discontinued. But the condition of the United States in this regard, as we have already shown, is the condition of Christendom; and therefore, if a change is to be brought about, all are alike interested, and must unite in effecting it.
We have said, that, under existing circumstances, war may be a political necessity; but is it a moral necessity? Is there any thing in the nature of man which makes the destruction of his fellow-men in war unavoidable? Is it not as feasible and as consistent with his nature to dispense with appeals to brute force amongst different communities, as between different individuals in those communities? Would not the same principle, the same common sense, which establishes a court of justice for the settlement of private disputes, establish a similar tribunal for the settlement of international differences?
If it is indispensable to the preservation of peace amongst individuals, that there be a well-defined code of laws, which all may understand, and all must be required to obey, is it not equally indispensable amongst different communities?
At present, as we have said, there is no established code of international law, or any common tribunal for the settlement of international disputes. Is the attainment of these admittedly important objects practicable? In what manner can they be secured? Evidently in the same way in which all social institutions are formed; viz., by the voluntary, harmonious action of those who are directly concerned. And this can only be secured by concerted and concentrated effort. "Concentration," says M. Guizot, "is the highest element of civilization." The parties must come voluntarily together; must consult upon their mutual interests; in short, there must first be a general international convention, or congress. This is a necessary preliminary. Is it feasible? Can the human mind achieve this advanced step to a higher condition?
We answer these questions, without hesitation, in the affirmative, and for the following reasons: —
First, Because the present system is at war with the plainest dictates of common sense, and the highest interests of mankind.
It may be safely assumed, that any system, policy, or practice, which, in the course of events and the lapse of time, has become, not only absolutely useless, but positively pernicious and absurd, cannot long continue; that the advancing tide of intelligence will sweep it away as the rubbish of the past.