John Trenchard identifies who will benefit from any new war “got up” in Italy: princes, courtiers, jobbers, and pensioners, but definitely not the ordinary taxpayer (1722)

John Trenchard

Found in Cato’s Letters, 4 vols. in 2 (LF ed.)

John Trenchard (1662-1723), one of the author’s of Cato’s Letters, warned in 1722 that a new war with Italy would allow "many princes (to) warm their hands at it, whilst their subjects will be burnt to death," and reward many jobbers and courtiers who stood to personally benefit from increased taxes and debt:

We find by woeful experience, that three shillings in the pound has not maintained the current expence of the government, but we have run still in debt. The money given for the Civil List has not defrayed that charge, but new and large sums have been given to pay off the arrears; which, it is said, are not yet paid off. New salaries and new pensions have been found necessary to satisfy the clamours of those who will never be satisfied; and the greater occasions which the courtiers have, and the greater necessities which they are in, the more will still be found necessary: for it is no news for artful men to engage their superiors in difficulties, and then to be paid largely for helping them out of them again.

John Trenchard was a trenchant critic of the British Empire and the political and financial elites who benefited from it. A number of interesting points are made in this passage: there is the listing of those groups who stand to benefit from the additional revenues raised in order to fight a spurious war in Italy; the recommendation that Britain not be involved in this dispute but sit back and look for trading opportunities to emerge; and then there is the powerful “fire” metaphor with the great powers “kindling” a fire in Italy, the Princes who will “warm their hands” at the fire, while their subjects “will be burnt to death”, with Trenchard urging Britain to stay well back so not to be “scorched” by the flames. The phrase “how wars are ‘got up’” was chosen deliberately in order to evoke memories of a famous essay by Richard Cobden, the great English anti-war and free trade campaigner, called “How Wars are Got Up in India” (1852). Cobden makes similar arguments as Trenchard about the origins of wars, especially on the colonial frontier.