War Versus Industry by Thomas Common

1845-1945, Benjamin R. Tucker, Clarence Lee Swartz, Historical Work, Letters, Liberty, Ragnar Redbeard, The Eagle and The Serpent, Thomas Common, Trevor Blake / Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

A letter by Thomas Common to the editor of the Edinburgh Evening News, published September 7th, 1898 (Number 7,916). Thomas Common was an early English-language translator of Friedrich Nietzsche. Common appeared in the egoist journal The Eagle and the Serpent (1889 – 1927), as did the Ellis and Wallace mentioned by Common.  Common may have been part of a lost English-language translation of Max Stirner‘s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum mentioned in the egoist journal I (1898) edited by C. L. Swartz. Common also published his own journal, Notes for Good Europeans. Egoist titan Benjamin R. Tucker described Notes for Good Europeans in Volume XIV Number 23 of his journal Liberty (September 1904): “The contents of the magazine are both good and bad — depending on the ‘point of view.’ The subjects range from a sober discussion of Shakespeare and quotations from Bernard Shaw and others to an unmeasured laudation of the rantings of Ragnar Redbeard.”

Common makes reference to “Friedrich Nietzsche: His Life and Works” in Volume CLXII (October 1897) of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (pages 476 – 493) and “The Opinions of Friedrich Nietzsche” in Volume 73 (1898) of Contemporary Review (pages 725 – 750). Both essays are by Profesor Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison (1856 – 1931), and both do vilify the philosophy of Nietzsche. Common also mentions La Philosophie de Nietzsche by Henri Lichtenberger (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1898).


Notwithstanding some very excellent arguments in your two articles on Nature’s decrees concerning industry and militarism, I hardly think question is finally settled. It is not us to put on our seven-league boots and go on a tour of inspection among European nations during the past 2000 years. If we wished to determine the course human evolution with some degree of accuracy, we would have to traverse a period at least one hundred times greater.

It will be enough for our purpose to go back to the time when Egypt became part of the Roman empire. What would the philosophical Roman soldier have thought about the course of human evolution after having examined the pyramids and the wonderful temples and tombs of long past ages? With the military exploits of Rome vividly impressed on his memory, he might probably have thought Nature has decreed that militarism was destined to replace the apparently peaceful industry that had left such wonderful monuments on the bank of the Nile. His opinion, however, would have been just as erroneous as the opposite opinion.

The fact is that militarism and industrialism are not necessarily antithetic, in the predominance of the one or the other is no certain indication by which we can always distinguish advancedness or the backwardness of the people in the scale of civilization. Neither the one nor the other is the true end of humanity; and the Czar and his Ministers are equally in error when they say that “the maintenance of universal peace and a possible reduction of the excessive armaments… represents the ideal aims towards which the efforts of all governments should be directed.

In so far as the human race can be said to have a goal at all, it is the highest excellence of society, and neither militarism or industrialism, neither peace nor war can be judged independently, but must be tested by their effects in furthering or retarding the attainment of man’s true end. It is doubtful what may take place with regard to national armaments. It is quite possible that they may be reduced in the near future, not from a decrease in aggressiveness, but owing to the increasing lack of solidarity among the individuals comprising a nation.

There is little doubt, however, that as regard the police organization (which is practically a military organization) it will be more and more strengthened for a long time to come. The disorganization of social arrangements which has resulted from the vast increase in trade and commerce during the present century has produced a state of latent anarchism, which is only prevented from bursting forth in lawlessness by the great increase of the police force in all our industrial centers.

I would most emphatically deny the probability of the dream of a millennium of happiness and comfort for all individuals ever being realized. Instead of the struggle for existence ceasing in the future, it is likely to become more violent. Under Christian influences this struggle has been reduced to a minimum for the lower classes of the population, and has resulted in the deterioration of the European races.

Now, however, when the theologians themselves have torn up their creed and the Christian records and in their triumph have painted the shreds in all the colors of the rainbow (see the Polychrome Bible), Christian morality, with the secular salvation which it has assuredly provided for sinners, must necessarily perish in spite of all the efforts of the ethical societies to foster it. The natural result is likely to be a recrudescence of pagan morality.

The struggle for existence will probably once more be waged fiercely, as in ancient Greece and Rome, and as a final result of a long and bitter struggle a united Western Europe may once more be realized. The fierce struggle of classes and of individuals will, in all probability, continue its natural course until it results once more, as in ancient India, in welding society into a system of castes – a ruling caste, a soldier caste, an a laboring caste, each with its various gradations. It is likely that industrialism and militarism will always continue to co-exist; in future, however, there will be a regulated system of manufactures, trade, and commerce according to the national requirements – not the anarchical huckster system that is carried on at present.

The whole philosophy of the subject is set forth at great length in Nietzsche’s works, which, instead of taking a pessimistic view of the world like Schopenhauerism, are joyfully optimistic. As Nietzsche has succeeded best in explaining the past, he may also be taken as the best guide with regard to the future; and notwithstanding that Professor Andrew Seth has misrepresented and even vilified the new philosophy in “Blackwood” and the “Contemporary,” Nietzsche has an ever-increasing number of enthusiastic disciples and able defenders. We may mention among the number Mr. Havelock Ellis and the late Professor Wallace of Oxford. Perhaps the best book on the subject is La Philosopie de Nietzsche, by Professor Lichtenberger.

Become a patron at Patreon!