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Herbert Spencer on the State’s cultivation of “the religion of enmity” to justify its actions (1884)

In the Postscript to his The Man versus the State (1884) the English sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argued that the State deliberately encouraged “the religion of enmity” against others in order to bolster public “faith in governmental ability and authority”:

Chiefly, however, the maintenance of this faith is necessitated by the maintenance of fitness for war. This involves continuance of such confidence in the ruling agency, and such subordination to it, as may enable it to wield all the forces of the society on occasions of attack or defence; and there must survive a political theory justifying the faith and the obedience. While their sentiments and ideas are of kinds which perpetually endanger peace, it is requisite that men should have such belief in the authority of government as shall give it adequate coercive power over them for war purposes—a belief in its authority which inevitably, at the same time, gives it coercive power over them for other purposes.

Chiefly, however, the maintenance of this faith (in governmental ability and authority) is necessitated by the maintenance of fitness for war. This involves continuance of such confidence in the ruling agency, and such subordination to it, as may enable it to wield all the forces of the society on occasions of attack or defence; and there must survive a political theory justifying the faith and the obedience. While their sentiments and ideas are of kinds which perpetually endanger peace, it is requisite that men should have such belief in the authority of government as shall give it adequate coercive power over them for war purposes—a belief in its authority which inevitably, at the same time, gives it coercive power over them for other purposes.

Thus, as said at first, the fundamental reason for not expecting much acceptance of the doctrine set forth, is that we have at present but partially emerged from the militant régime and have but partially entered on that industrial régime to which this doctrine is proper.

So long as the religion of enmity predominates over the religion of amity, the current political superstition must hold its ground. While throughout Europe, the early culture of the ruling classes is one which every day of the week holds up for admiration those who in ancient times achieved the greatest feats in battle, and only on Sunday repeats the injunction to put up the sword—while these ruling classes are subject to a moral discipline consisting of six-sevenths pagan example and one-seventh Christian precept; there is no likelihood that there will arise such international relations as may make a decline in governmental power practicable, and a corresponding modification of political theory acceptable. While among ourselves the administration of colonial affairs is such that native tribes who retaliate on Englishmen by whom they have been injured, are punished, not on their own savage principle of life for life, but on the improved civilized principle of wholesale massacre in return for single murder, there is little chance that a political doctrine consistent only with unaggressive conduct will gain currency. While the creed men profess is so interpreted that one of them who at home addresses missionary meetings, seeks, when abroad, to foment a quarrel with an adjacent people whom he wishes to subjugate, and then receives public honours after his death, it is not likely that the relations of our society to other societies will become such that there can spread to any extent that doctrine of limited governmental functions which accompanies the diminished governmental authority proper to a peaceful state. A nation which, interested in ecclesiastical squabbles about the ceremonies of its humane cult, cares so little about the essence of that cult that filibustering in its colonies receives applause rather than reprobation, and is not denounced even by the priests of its religion of love, is a nation which must continue to suffer from internal aggressions, alike of all individuals on one another and of the State on individuals. It is impossible to unite the blessings of equity at home with the commission of inequities abroad.

About this Quotation:

In 1884 Spencer thought that Britain was caught in a transition period between two fundamentally different societies, namely “the militant régime” dominated by a warrior class which ruled a society constantly prepared for war, and the “industrial régime” where individual rights are respected, free trade in all things takes place, and where domestic and international peace reigns. He was confident that eventually Britain would slough off all the remnants of the militant régime and fully enter the industrial stage of society. However, in the meantime, the old ruling elites would try to hang onto power for as long as possible which they were doing by instilling a climate of fear, “the religion of enmity”, against foreigners in order justify a large military and continued control of key sectors of the economy. Spencer pointed out the obvious incongruity between sermons on Sunday preaching “the religion of amity” while on the other six days of the week there was near universal “admiration those who … achieved the greatest feats in battle”.

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