Reprinted from Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Volume 32, Issue 1, Winter January 1, 1992, pages 111-128.
The question of war or peace troubled sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe as much as it troubles our own time. Organized violence-the systematic infliction of irrevocable harm upon one group of human beings by another-was the activity by which the modern nation-state originated, defined itself, rose and fell. During those centuries, most Europeans affirmed, or at least accepted war as the final arbiter of what happened in history. But a significant minority, whether because of inner illumination, abstract reasoning, or the outcome of experience, disputed the primacy of war, maintaining that organized violence was intrinsically evil and that its purposed benefits rarely outweighed its costs. This debate between war and peace influenced the policies of princes, the exhortations of divines, and the speculations of philosophers as well as the daily thoughts of citizens. It also shaped the imaginative productions of artists and writers throughout the early modern period.
English Language and Literature
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