General Friedrich von Bernhardi, The Next War

Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849-1930) was a successful officer and influential writer on military topics.  Becoming increasing impatient with the Kaiser’s government for not being even more aggressive in the diplomatic crises that preceded the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he echoed the positions of the extremely nationalist and militarist Pan-German League.  He repeats many of the themes that occur in the passages from Treitzsche and Moltke, but the arguments are now couched in terms of pseudo-Darwinian ideas about the survival of the fittest that presage the ideas of Hitler.

This desire for peace has rendered most civilized nations anemic, and marks a decay of spirit and political courage such as has often been shown by a race of Epigoni. "It has always been," H[einrich] von Treitschke tells us, "the weary, spiritless, and exhausted ages which have played with the dream of perpetual peace. . . .”

This aspiration is directly antagonistic to the great universal laws which rule all life. War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization. "War is the father of all things." (Heraclitus) The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognized this.

The struggle for existence is, in the life of Nature, the basis of all healthy development. All existing things show themselves to be the result of contesting forces. So in the life of man the struggle is not merely the destructive, but the life-giving principle. "To supplant or to be supplanted is the essence of life," says Goethe, and the strong life gains the upper hand. The law of the stronger holds good everywhere. Those forms survive which are able to procure themselves the most favorable conditions of life, and to assert themselves in the universal economy of Nature. The weaker succumb. This struggle is regulated and restrained by the unconscious sway of biological laws and by the interplay of opposite forces. In the plant world and the animal world this process is worked out in unconscious tragedy. In the human race it is consciously carried out, and regulated by social ordinances. The man of strong will and strong intellect tries by every means to assert himself, the ambitious strive to rise, and in this effort the individual is far from being guided merely by the consciousness of right. The life-work and the life-struggle of many men are determined, doubtless, by unselfish and ideal motives, but to a far greater extent the less noble passions, craving for possessions, enjoyment and honor, envy and the thirst for revenge, determine men's actions. Still more often, perhaps, it is the need to live which brings down even natures of a higher mold into the universal struggle for existence and enjoyment....

War will furnish such a nation with favorable vital conditions, enlarged possibilities of expansion and widened influence, and thus promote the progress of mankind; for it is clear that those intellectual and moral factors which insure superiority in war are also those which render possible a general progressive development. They confer victory because the elements of progress are latent in them. Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow....

Struggle is, therefore, a universal law of Nature, and the instinct of self-preservation which leads to struggle is acknowledged to be a natural condition of existence. "Man is a fighter." Self-sacrifice is a renunciation of life, whether in the existence of the individual or in the life of states, which are agglomerations of individuals. The first and paramount law is the assertion of one's own independent existence. By self-assertion alone can the state maintain the conditions of life for its citizens, and insure them the legal protection which each man is entitled to claim from it. This duty of self-assertion is by no means satisfied by the mere repulse of hostile attacks; it includes the obligation to assure the possibility of life and development to the whole body of the nation embraced by the state.

Strong, healthy, and flourishing nations increase in numbers. From a given moment they require a continual expansion of their frontiers, they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must, as a rule be obtained at the cost of its possessors--that is today, by conquest, which thus becomes a law of necessity.

The right of conquest is universally acknowledged. . . .

Source: Friedrich von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War (New York, 1914), pp. 16-20, 85-105, 114,167-82. Translated by Allen H. Powles.