A dialogue for Armistice Day.
“Look at this,” said the Humanitarian, and he read.
Due to family ties to both sides, Alfonso XIII of Spain kept his kingdom neutral in World War I (1914–1918).
“Imagine that,” said the Cynic. “All those millions of Spaniards pining to die on the Western Front. And one mad king goes and ruins their dreams. If only they’d had a republic. Then they could have gone to a right proper war!”
“Just think,” said the Humanitarian, “how fabulously boring history might have been if all the other monarchs of Europe had followed his example. Which they absolutely did not. I mean, it’s not like Alfonso XIII’s family tree was anything special. They were all one big family back then. Most were even more closely related to one another than he was. Alfonso was only related to the British by, I believe, his marriage.”
“Indeed,” said the Stoic, “the grandchildren of Queen Victoria and of Christian IX of Denmark – who included Alfonso’s wife – might have stopped the war all by themselves if they had so chosen. Among them they also counted the Kings of Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Greece, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, and the German Kaiser. After that… what was left? And while monarchy may have been in decline, just think of it – think of the spectacle of it. The crowned heads of Europe, united by blood, determined to stop a war. It might have been enough to rescue monarchism. And if they’d said no to war, who would be left to fight?”
“France and Austria both like a good dust-up,” said the Humanitarian.
“Do they now?” asked the Capitalist. “Or rather: Which parts of them do?”
“I don’t follow,” said the Humanitarian.
“Do you know the tale of the stationary bandits?” asked the Capitalist.
“Enlighten me,” said the Humanitarian.
“Long, long ago, the world had no government. Only roving bandits, who plundered whatever they could and then moved on. It was pretty awful. But then, one day a group of bandits decided that it could do a bit better: It would stay in one area and never go away. It would also keep all the other bandits out, because competition doesn’t actually pay. Not in their line of work anyway.
“Now, bandits don’t change their balaklavas, and so the raids would continue. But at least there would only be raids from one group of bandits, and not from many.
“This many people came to see as an improvement. No, the bandits’ actions were not necessarily legitimate in some grand scheme of things. And no, there wasn’t an original social contract underlying it. No subject ever gave their stamp of approval to anything. But the new setup was less bad, and that was a good thing. In time the bandits introduced other refinements, like regular raiding times, and pre-announced sums to be exacted, and violence only when the tribute wasn’t forthcoming. Never when you’d paid in time. Slowly, gradually, government was born. The costumes got fancier. The ideologies proliferated. The delusions of grandeur accreted. Eventually people came to think that these were the reasons for government. But they aren’t, and they never were.
“So government is just predation in fancy dress?” asked the Stoic.
“No,” said the Capitalist. “As Mancur Olson put it, the stationary bandits aren’t exactly predators anymore: ‘not like the wolf that preys on the elk, but more like the rancher who makes sure that his cattle are protected and given water.'”
“So what is it?” asked the Humanitarian. “What’s the proper analogy for war? Is it the fault of the rancher, who sends his cattle to the slaughter? Or do the cattle just sometimes stampede?”
“Cattle never have the bad grace to blame the rancher,” said the Cynic.