Is War the Father and King of All?


war father of us all

Victor Davis Hanson notes that “conflict will remain the familiar father of us all—as long as human nature stays constant and unchanging over time and across space and cultures.” This statement seems apt. Yet throughout history some have actively embraced the idea of war as father of all, rather than viewing it as a sad fact of the human condition in desperate need of remedy.

It was the pre-Socratic mystic, Heraclitus, who originally said that “war is the father of all and the king of all” (see John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 136). Martin Heidegger, the twentieth century philosopher, and in his lifetime a proactive member of the Nazi party, had read Heraclitus’ word “all” as not simply a sociological observation as Davis Hanson does, but in the sense of fundamental being. In other words, Heidegger believed that Heraclitus described war as governing absolutely everything (see Gregory Fried, Heidegger's Polemos: From Being to Politics, p. 30).

Where did the active embracing of the idea of war as “law” ultimately lead? Richard Gelding notes that the philosopher Karl Popper had discerned an “elitism” inherent in the fragments of Heraclitus, and that Popper ‘”saw in Hitler the grim results of this elitism” (Remembering Heraclitus, p. 110). In a 1942 speech Adolf Hitler proclaimed that Heraclitus’ concept of war in the context of a world in which the stronger overcomes the weaker, amounted to “an iron law of logic” (Hitler and the Germans, p. 141).

The realities of warfare and violence form part of human relationships, national conflicts and the present state of physical nature. But the upholding of what might be termed a spirit of violence as a virtuous “truth”, as something to be embraced by human beings, is a deception that only ends in total catastrophe, as we know from the history of the twentieth century. In the final analysis, it comes down to who or what we allow to be father and king of us all.


David Hulme and Daniel Tompsett

Tags: war, peace, hitler, heraclitus, heidegger, hanson, violence