Friday, December 17, 2004

The Peace of Dives

The Peace of Dives

Rudyard Kipling 1903
THE WORD came down to Dives in Torment where he lay:
“Our World is full of wickedness, My Children maim and slay,
    “And the Saint and Seer and Prophet
    “Can make no better of it
“Than to sanctify and prophesy and pray.

“Rise up, rise up, thou Dives, and take again thy gold,
“And thy women and thy housen as they were to thee of old.
    “It may be grace hath found thee
    “In the furnace where We bound thee,
“And that thou shalt bring the peace My Son foretold.”

Then merrily rose Dives and leaped from out his fire,
And walked abroad with diligence to do the Lord’s desire;
    And anon the battles ceased,
    And the captives were released,
And Earth had rest from Goshen to Gadire,


Then Satan said to Dives:—“Declare thou by The Name,
“The secret of thy subtlety that turneth mine to shame.
    “It is known through all the Hells
    “How my peoples mocked my spells,
“And my faithless Kings denied me ere I came.”


“Their nearest foes may purchase, or their furthest friends may lease,
“One by one from Ancient Accad to the Islands of the Seas.
    “And their covenants they make
    “For the naked iron’s sake,
“But I—I trap them armoured into peace.

“The flocks that Egypt pledged me to Assyria I drave,
“And Pharaoh hath the increase of the herds that Sargon gave.
    “Not for Ashdod overthrown
    “Will the Kings destroy their own,
“Or their peoples wake the strife they feign to brave.

“Is not Carchernish like Calno? For the steeds of their desire
“They have sold me seven harvests that I sell to Crowning Tyre;
    “And the Tyrian sweeps the plains
    “With a thousand hired wains,
“And the Cities keep the peace and—share the hire.


“So I make a jest of Wonder, and a mock of Time and Space.
“The roofless Seas an hostel, and the Earth a market-place,
    “Where the anxious traders know
    “Each is surety for his foe,
“And none may thrive without his fellows’ grace.

“Now this is all my subtlety and this is all my wit,
“God give thee good enlightenment, My Master in the Pit.
    “But behold all Earth is laid
    “In the Peace which I have made,
“And behold I wait on thee to trouble it!”

Kipling hoped he foresaw a world where the nations, bound by trade, would study war no more. He dreamed that self-interest would keep nations at peace. Note the date: 1903. Kipling lost his son in World War I.

I hear the same sort of refrain, based on as as much hope and as little history as Kipling's. No democratic nations have ever gone to war against each other.

Aside from the fact that you can't demonstrate this without shading the meanings of "democratic" and "nations," it is wishful thinking to project this very far. Anatole France was similarly skeptical in Penguin Island: he feared that economic interests would be freer to start wars in a democracy! What in the nature of a democracy (I assume that it values freedom--this excludes most alleged democracies in the world) intrinsically forbids aggressive war?

I said you have to fudge the meaning of democratic and nation to make the slogan work. Think of the American Civil war: a democracy fighting itself! And democracy is not an eternal possession: think of Hitler's rise to power; a popular rise that lost the Germans their democracy in only a few years. Or think of Algeria and the threatened Islamist "One man, one vote, one time." And, if it isn't too extreme to consider a ship as a microcosm of a state, recall that historians now say that many of the Caribbean pirate ships were run on democratic lines.

I don't see any magic potion to solve all the world's problems. Some things help: systems in which people participate in their own government I judge will almost always work better than those that don't. But I think it requires a certain blindness to imagine that democracy is a cure-all to eliminate wars, or that free trade will make men act like saints.

This isn't Kipling's best work by a long shot. But I thought the bitter irony of it made it memorable.

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