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A War Against the Turks? Erasmus on War and Peace

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In a time dominated by incessant warfare, violence and terrorism, it would do well to remember the great Dutch humanist Erasmus and especially his teachings on war and peace. The essay focuses on three Erasmus texts: "On the War against the Turks"; his comments on the classical adage "War is Sweet to the Inexperienced"; and his "Handbook for a Militant Christian". In the first text, Erasmus champions a slightly modified version of the traditional doctrine of "just war", by stipulating that war can only be conducted in self-defense against aggression, and only as a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted. Outside these limits, he insists, war is an act of savagery; above all, if it is inspired by such motives as "lust for power, ambition or desire for revenge" it is not war but mere brigandage. The second text expands the critique of unrestricted warfare into a critique of some pretended justifications of war — especially arguments blaming a corrupt "human nature" or invoking the requirements of "public security". The final text opposes power plays and warmongering — the ethical standards of good will and respect for others as guideposts for inter-confessional relations and as antidotes to religiously sanctioned violence.


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