The Peace of Privilege --
and War, Its Retribution
Robert S. Bennett
[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review,
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
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
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