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James's "Moral Equivalent of War:" A Minor Variation on Common Themes

In the decade before World War One, many minds sought alternatives to war. Conferences were held, international associations formed, and much writing produced. Reading “A Moral Equivalent of War” as James’s contribution to these discussions enables us to identify common themes with which James agreed and to determine precisely what his “moral equivalent” is. James’s analysis of violence was standard issue at that time. Like many of his contemporaries, he assumed that war had contributed to social cohesion and strenuousness in the past, but that this was no longer the case. Like them, he assumed “civilized nations” were moving into a socialist future without war. James’s moral equivalent of war is a minor variation on these common themes, as he seeks to “conciliate” militarists to the future reality of a world without war. His proposal to enlist young men to fight against nature is intended as a method of conciliation.

Marilyn Fischer
University of Dayton
United States

 

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