Thomas Gordon gives a long list of ridiculous and frivolous reasons why kings and tyrants have started wars which have led only to the enslavement and destruction of their own people (1737)
Thomas Gordon is best known as one of the authors of Cato’s Letters, a severe critique of the political corruption and wars of the British Empire which very much influenced the American colonists. In his lengthy “Discourses on Tacitus” he concludes a section on the Follies of Conquering with the following:
I might here display what ridiculous causes do often pique and awaken the vanity and ambition of Princes, and prompt them to lavish lives and treasure, and utterly undo those whom they should tenderly protect. For a beast of burden, or even for the tooth of a beast; for a mistress, for a river, for a senseless word hastily spoken, for words that had a foolish meaning, or no meaning at all; for an empty sepulchre or an empty title; to dry the tears of a coquette, to comply with the whims of a pedant, or to execute the curses of a bigot; important Wars have sometimes been waged, and nations animated to destroy one another; nor is there any security against such destructive follies, where the sense of every man must acquiesce in the wild passion of one; and where the interest and peace, and preservation of a State, are found too light to ballance his rage or caprice. Hence the policy of the Romans to tame a people not easy to be subdued; they committed such to the domination of Tyrants. Thus they did in Armenia, and thus in Britain. And these instruments did not only enslave their subjects, but by continual fighting with one another, consume them.
Thomas Gordon used the writings of Tacitus on the corruption and tyranny of the Roman Empire as a handy weapon with which to flog the British Empire under which he lived. One wonders if one might do the same in our own time? In this passage Gordon considers the “follies of conquering”, in particular the foolish and sometimes frivolous reasons why kings and emperors have gone to war such as “for words that had a foolish meaning, or no meaning at all.”