Clausewitz’s ideas seem to have chimed in with the rationalistic, scientific, and technological outlook associated with the industrial revolution. Modern European man, his belief in God destroyed by the Enlightenment, took the world as his oyster. Its living beings – and its raw materials – were regarded as his to exploit and plunder, and indeed plundering and exploiting them constituted “progress.”
The more I read, the more I come across this notion that the age of reason somehow had a malign side, that the enlightenment was a spiritual disaster from which we have not recovered. Virtually the whole canon of modernist literature appears to be premised on this, and the current sense of fin de siecle which affects western sensibilities at the start of this century is undoubtedly a symptom of it. But I do not see how one can ascribe to the age of reason a sense of the efficacy of war as a means of promoting one's interests.
The final step in this direction was taken when Charles Darwin showed that humanity, too, was an integral part of nature.... that man was simply a biological organism like any other, subject to no rule but the law of the jungle. With war considered God’s (or nature’s) favourite means for selecting among species and races, it became hard to see why one’s fellow humans should not be treated as animals allegedly treat each other in “the struggle for existence”: that is, with the utmost ruthlessness and regardless of any consideration except expediency.
This seems a dubious argument. Natural selection is not war. Natural selection may advance through sexual means, through means of proliferance, or through lethal means. But lethal does not – not necessarily – mean antagonistic, and certainly not bellicose in the sense that humanity defines warfare. Are there wars of all against all in the animal world? Are there wars of honour? So the “struggle for existence” or the “law of the jungle” are simply not the same thing as warfare and to conflate them in this way is tendentious.