The Peace of Privilege --
and War, Its Retribution

Robert S. Bennett

[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review, March-April 1916]

A few years ago world peace was said by many to be imminent. It was to be initiated through educational propaganda in which the merits of peace were to be extolled, and the horrors of war portrayed; it was to be maintained through organization.

There was no doubt a sincere desire for peace. Privilege was to be kept upon its throne. This could be done only through peace. It was known that war shakes some things down, and other things up. The peaks of privilege could not stand amidst the quakings of war; they would topple into the abyses of misery below. The peaks were to stand, the chasms to remain: more, the first were to grow higher, the latter to become deeper and more dark; while a veil of philanthropy was to be spread about to confound the judgments of men. The peak and the chasm are concomitants one of the other; the brilliance of the height is enhanced by the darkness of the gulf below.

All this could be maintained through peace. Accepting a strong desire as a sure promise of the future, it was thought not inconsistent to cultivate war and at the same time prepare for a harvest of peace.

The dogs of war were held in leash; petted and pampered, they were the assurance of peace. Justice and righteousness were to be trusted not in fact, but only in word.

Thus it was natural that war should come when peace was most predicted. And, whenever there is as great anxiety for the causes of war to continue, as for war itself to cease, we may know that desire has supplanted reason. Though for a time in his more immediate and less important affairs man can discard reason for a time in his more immediate and less important affairs he cannot do so entirely and survive. His attempt to do so results in a vital conflict at times. In war the instinct of self-preservation comes to the front, eclipsing all else. This seems hard to believe unless we see in war the outward and tangible result of a degrading and destructive struggle that has gone on unceasingly in times of peace.

War does not come forth a full fledged thing without origin or birth; it is the fruitage of a tree that is rooted in infidelity and materialism; its trunk, injustice; its limbs, bigotry, plutocracy, privilege, extortion, exploitation; its branches, resulting social afflictions that bear down upon men in times of peace. If the fruit of a tree is objectionable and yet we find that we would rather preserve the tree entire, we must either bear with the fruit or go to the expensive process of sterilizing each separate bloom as it appears. Such would be the attitude of those who work for peace as though it had no causes; as if it could be made by witchery. But on this question let us not assume that a tree has no connection with the fruit it bears; or that there can be fruit without a twig; a twig without limbs and trunk and roots. Prejudice is the result of some wrong we desire to shield; and these false assumptions are the result of prejudice.

Self-will alone can form the veil behind which these inconsistencies can satisfy the judgments of man. Within this darkened spot he says: there will be no change because I do not want a change; or, there will be no war since I desire peace and quiet. As well might a man blindfold himself and go into a large industrial plant or railroad yard, fancying that what he does not see cannot harm him.

Through war man overrules this obsession in a very indirect way. He starts out to subdue others and ends in a very circuitous route by himself being subdued or severely chastised.

Before our civil war there was perhaps not one man in a thousand, even among the most enlightened, who would have predicted a four years war. Why? Men did not want so great a war because of the disturbance it would cause and the results that would come from it. It was to be a compromise or a hundred days war. But self-will came in. Slavery must be preserved. Whether it should be in part preserved, or whether it could be preserved as a national institution, were not questions for self-will to consider. The results were death, destruction, privation, untold loss for four years, negro slavery destroyed as a legalized institution in the United States If we attempt to deal similarly with the special privileges that are now making a classification of slaves and freemen among white men, we should be sanguine indeed to hope for better results.

So with the present war in Europe. A preponderance of a desire to perpetuate a system obscured reason.

For a like reason some feel disposed at times to call the truth the dark side and error the bright side. That in special privilege there is, for example, the germ of its own destruction, and that this has the stamp of justice under natural law, may not be clear to many.

I do not say that war is profitable, but I do know that almost every active cause that leads to war is profitable, according to our definition of profit. War is the balancing of the account. So if it is not a logical or rational thing - as it is not - we must look back of it also for wrong.

We have thought to find a profit where there is no profit, and upon it we have built a prosperity that is not prosperity. Why? Because our laws are permitted to run counter to natural law, and at the end of the course of disobedience to the latter, stands war, as a retribution. If governments did not find, as they suppose, a way to make the laws of God of no avail, nations would escape their decline and fall.