Why do we make peace?
John Locke proposed that humans, possessing free will and reason, do not naturally need to harm one another or themselves. Sutro’s copy of Two Treatises of Government was printed 1772, a time in which Locke’s doctrines were gaining popularity, particularly in the American Colonies. The Second Treatise declared that men are created equal, possess free will, reason and a natural liberty subordinate only to God in the state of nature, thus contravening Hobbes’s bleak view of human nature. Further, Locke determined “the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no-one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Second Treatise, chapter 2).
Locke conjures much of the American philosophy of liberty in Second Treatise on Government including the protection of citizens’ rights from government overreach. Thomas Jefferson wrote that Locke’s arguments were of the utmost influence. Some individuals who viewed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence actually considered the Declaration copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government.
Immanuel Kant’s 1795 book, To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, championed republican constitutions, economic trade, and a federation of democratic institutions that together would deliver an everlasting peace. Because nations exist in anarchy without a central authority (the natural condition of nations), peace must be imposed by a federation of democratic nations, which Kant referred to as a “League of Nations”. Perpetual Peace so strongly influenced President Woodrow Wilson during the World War I that Wilson proposed establishing a League of Nations as part of his 1918 plan for an equitable peace in Europe following the war. Wilson’s plan was popular among exhausted nations and populations, but the American ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and its First Covenant establishing the League proved too difficult politically to the isolationist United States.
The United States never joined the League and thus, the League never achieved its full capability. John Maynard Keynes’ book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) stated Wilson was revered by Europeans as a guardian of the hopes of mankind.
“The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States”
Peoples, as states, like individuals, may be judged to injure one another merely by their coexistence in the state of nature (i.e., while independent of external laws). Each of them, may and should for the sake of its own security demand that the others enter with it into a constitution similar to the civil constitution, for under such a constitution each can be secure in his right. This would be a league of nations, but it would not have to be a state consisting of nations.
-Kant, Perpetual Peace, Second Article
David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature can be found in first edition in the Sutro Library. Hume views humans as possessing “natural” virtues which are inherently social. We have an original instinct orienting us towards pleasure and away from pain, what Hume referred to as “good or evil” passions and that there are various human motives, including a “regard to justice, and abhorrence or villainy and knavery,” self-love, and “regard to the publick[sic] interest.” According to Hume, only civilized humans possess these motives while humans in their “rude and more natural condition” do not.
Hume argues that government serves the public interest by “preserv[ing] order and concord in society.” Promise-keeping is a human invention needed for social cooperation, and government is a human invention for enforcing such practices and thereby preserving social order. Promise breaking and anti-government actions run against the common interest. The similarities between individuals and entire nations yield the same laws of nature.
Whether war and peace are the result of a primal drive within, or something we create as a result of civilization and progress, hopefully these extraordinary volumes from the Sutro collection highlight the philosophical arguments concerning these timeless questions.
Bassani, Luigi Marco. Life, Liberty, and…: Jefferson on Property Rights. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 18. Number 1. Winter 2004, pp. 31-87. mises-media.s3.amazonaws.com/18_1_2.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2018.
Gill, Michael. Hume’s Progressive View of Human Nature. Hume Studies, Volume XXVI, Number 1. April 2000. humesociety.org/hs/issues/v26n1/gill/gill-v26n1.pdf. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. Leviathan : sive, De materia, forma, & potestate civitatis ecclesiasticae et civilis; authore Thomas Hobbes, Malmesburiensi. Revised Latin edition, London, dated 1668. Sutro Vault ; 192 H68l. 20.5cm.
Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. London, Printed for John Noon, 1739-40, first edition. Sutro Vault 192H. 21cm.
Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. The Thomas Jefferson
Memorial Association, Washington, D. C., 1904, Vol. XV, p. 462, in a letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823. wallbuilders.com/john-locke-deist-theologian/#edn5. Accessed May 29, 2018.
Kant, Immanuel. To Perpetual Peace. Por la paz perpetua; traducción de Rafael Montestruc. Sopena House, appeared March 1905. Sutro Vault JX1946.K36 S6. 17cm.
Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Sutro Vault 341.2 K. 21cm.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. L. K. Whiston, 1772. Sutro Vault 302L. 22cm.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. Art of War in Seven Books with notes by a gentleman of the state of New York. Albany, Printed by H. C. Southwick, 1815. Sutro Vault U101 .M17. unk cm.
Paret, Peter, Editor. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton University Press, 1986, pg. 27.
Thucydides. Eight bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre; Written by Thucydides, the sonne of Olorus; interpreted with faith and diligence immediately out of the Greeke by Thomas Hobbes. 1628. Sutro’s imprint by Richard Mynn, 1634. Sutro Vault 888.2 T. 35cm.
 Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson
Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, p. 462, in a letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823. wallbuilders.com/john-locke-deist-theologian/#edn5. Accessed May 29, 2018.
 Bassani, Luigi Marco. Life, Liberty, and…: Jefferson on Property Rights. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 18. No. 1 (Winter 2004), pp. 31-87. mises-media.s3.amazonaws.com/18_1_2.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2018. Cites Jefferson letter to James Madison on August 30, 1823.