Econlib

The Library

Other Sites

Front Page arrow Quotations arrow Other Quotes arrow Week of 23 May, 2005

Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

During Erasmus’ lifetime Europe was torn apart by wars, often fought in the name of religion, as the Reformation divided individuals and nations into Protestant and Catholic. Some wars were fought even by the Pope. This appalled Erasmus who truly believed that the Christian religion was a religion of peace.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

23 May, 2005

static/Erasmus200.jpg

Erasmus has the personification of Peace come down to earth to see with dismay how war ravages human societies (1521)

Read the full quote in context here.

The personification of Peace visits Earth and sees with dismay how war ravages human societies. This is, of course, a thinly veiled critique by Erasmus of Europe in the early 16th century:

If the lower orders of the people were to act in this manner [hurting their brethren in war], some apology might be found in their supposed ignorance; if very young men were to act in this manner, the inexperience of youth might be pleaded in extenuation; if the poor laity only were concerned, the frailty of the agents might lessen the atrocity of the action: but the very reverse of this is the truth. The seeds of war are chiefly sown by those very people whose wisdom and moderation, characteristic of their rank and station, ought to compose and assuage the impetuous passions of the people.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

God made man unarmed. But anger and revenge have mended the work of God, and furnished his hands with weapons invented in hell. Christians attack christians with engines of destruction, fabricated by the devil. A cannon! a mortar! no human being could have devised them originally; they must have been suggested by the evil one. Nature, indeed, has armed lions with teeth and claws, and bulls with horns; but who ever saw them go in bodies to use their arms for mutual destruction? What man ever saw so small a number as even ten lions congregated to fight ten bulls, and drawn up in battle array? But how often have twenty thousand christians met an equal number on the same plain, all prepared to shoot each other, through the heart, or to plunge the sword or bayonet through each other’s bowels. So little account do they make of hurting their brethren, that they have not the smallest scruple to spill every drop of blood in their bodies. Beasts of the forest; your contests are at least excusable, and sometimes amiable; ye fight only when driven to madness by hunger, or to defend your young ones; but as for those who call themselves your lords, (men and christians) the faintest shadow of an affront is sufficient to involve them in all the horrors of premeditated war.

If the lower orders of the people were to act in this manner, some apology might be found in their supposed ignorance; if very young men were to act in this manner, the inexperience of youth might be pleaded in extenuation; if the poor laity only were concerned, the frailty of the agents might lessen the atrocity of the action: but the very reverse of this is the truth. The seeds of war are chiefly sown by those very people whose wisdom and moderation, characteristic of their rank and station, ought to compose and assuage the impetuous passions of the people.

The people, the ignoble vulgar, despised as they are, are the very persons who originally raise great and fair cities to their proud eminence; who conduct the commercial business of them entirely; and, by their excellent management, fill them with opulence. Into these cities, after they are raised and enriched by plebeians, creep the satraps and grandees, like so many drones into a hive; pilfer what was earned by others’ industry; and thus, what was accumulated by the labour of the many, is dissipated by the profligacy of the few; what was built by plebeians on upright foundations, is leveled to the ground by cruelty and royal patrician injustice.

If the military transactions of old time are not worth remembrance, let him who can bear the loathsome employ, only call to mind the wars of the last twelve years; let him attentively consider the causes of them all, and he will find them all to have been undertaken for the sake of kings; all of them carried on with infinite detriment to the people; while, in most instances, the people had not the smallest conern either in their origin or their issue.

[More works by Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536)]