By Olshausen, Michael
Contemporary Review , Vol. 276, No. 1609
WAR has only one cause, and it is not twentieth century nationalism, nor is it national identity. The cause of all conflict is ambition, and of war a single variety of ambition, examined in detail below. In brief, ambition is a sufficient condition for an outbreak of leadership to occur. Absent leadership, no conflict and no war can ever start.
Ceaseless comparison, the making of which enkindles dissatisfaction, is a basic mechanism of human perception. It arises most persistently in the restless mind -- richly interconnected and with a high metabolic rate -- and thus is endogenous only to individuals. Constructs (nationalism, national identity, race, etc.) are substantially extrinsic, dependent upon symbol, colour, ritual, and the like. In themselves, they are no social actors. They are, in effect, non-causal metonyms.
Ambition then in brief is a dissatisfaction set free to act by perceived possibility. 'The things therefore which other philosophers attribute to various and contradictory Causes,' Hester Thrale wrote in her diary in 1777, 'appeared to him (to Johnson) uniform enough: all was done to fill up the Time ... Why a Man must do something (H.T.'s italics).' Johnson, in Rasselas, Chapter 33, remarks on the urgency of 'that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must always be appeased ... He that has built for use, till use is supplied, must begin to build for vanity, and extend his plan to the utmost power of human performance, that he may not be soon reduced to form another wish.' Life's most primeval, thus universal, possibility domains, those within which our most ancient ambitions still seek satisfaction, are territorial claims-staking, numbers of surviving offspring, and display. A newer, more-specifically human domain is organizational felicity. Johnson lived barely at the outset of this domain's next-to-most-rapid expansion, the western, Industrial Revolution. We live fully within its most-rapid, global, nonetheless most-confining expansion. The expansionist construction of the European Union, driven by perfectionist ambition of a specific variety, is among the new domain's most perceptible excesses.
Listen to these key-exponents of Germany's very largest corporations, DaimlerChrysler and Deutsche Bank. Here is Juergen Schrempp, DaimlerChrysler's Chairman, responding in New York (31 March 1999) to stories about high-level defections of American engineers: 'If we need somebody from Ford or General Motors, we would buy it (that company) as well ... We don't need their know-how.' Here is Mr. Schrempp to Fortune Magazine (10 December 1997) about the renewal of his contract with Daimler: 'I couldn't care less what decision the board makes about renewing it,' 'It is imperative,' said Mr. Schrempp (7 June 1999) before the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, 'that we set ourselves the task ... of ... harmonizing regulatory standards ... on both sides of the pond,' regarding the gains to Americans and Europeans from becoming less-distinctly American, less-distinctly European. 'Walking on corpses' ('uber Leichen gehen'), said by Germans about Mr. Schrempp in the early nineties after he had terminated about a qua rter of Daimler's workforce. 'At times,' said the Chairman, 'I asked myself if I had overdone it,' but he had wanted, always he'd desired, to see, assembled and waiting before him, those who were about to loose their jobs (Fortune). 'With the Maastricht Treaty (in 1991),' said Wolfgang Hartung, chief of DaimlerChrysler's Euro-conversion project, speaking in Washington (26 April 1999), 'everybody should have known that there will be a single European currency ... but this is human nature ... you always postpone your homework until the end of the scale.' 'Life,' Hartung declared, pleased with his own work, and quoting Gorbachev 'punishes those who come too late.' We don't need . set ourselves the task ... couldn't care less ... imperative ... walking on corpses . …