Chapter 3

How Catholicism Changed the Rules of War

by Adam Smith Icon

This superior degree of humanity in war was introduced during the time of Popery.

*Superphysics Note: Catholicism

We never find it among the Greeks and Romans, despite all their attainments.

The Pope was considered as the common father of Christendom.

  • The clergy were under his subjection.
  • He had connections with all the European courts through his legates.
  • He obliged them to treat one another with more humanity.

The Holy War was then undertaken by most of the European princes. It made them turn their arms against people of a different religion. They thought those people deserved to be treated most cruelly.

But when they went to war among themselves, a greater degree of humanity was introduced since they=

  • had all been on one side in that common cause, and
  • thought that Christians should not be treated in the same way as infidels.

From these causes, moderns behave differently from the ancients with regard to prisoners. It is more from motives of policy than humanity that the effects of enemies are secured.

When a French army invades Germany, the general makes a law that all the people who will live quietly, and do not rise against him, shall be secure in their persons and possessions. He will punish a soldier as severely for injuring the peasants of his enemy’s country as those of his own.

But this is not the case in a sea war. An admiral seizes and plunders all the merchant ships he can get. Many of the merchants have done as little harm as the peasants.

Why then this distinction?

It is the general’s interest not to rob the peasants because it would be difficult to march an army carrying all its provisions through the enemy’s country. But by engaging them to stay, he is supplied without any other expedient. Through this, war is so far from being a disadvantage in a well cultivated country, that many get rich by it.

When the Netherlands is the seat of war, all the peasants grow rich, because=

  • they pay no rent when the enemy are in the country, and
  • provisions sell at a high rate.

This is at the expense of the landlords and the better sort of people.

  • They are generally ruined on such occasions.

Whenever the poor people abroad hear of a war, they will not stay from their native country.

It is quite opposite in a sea war.

  • Every ship carries its own provisions.
  • It is not dependent on the country than on the ships which it meets.


Another cause of modern refinement is that gallantry between hostile nations, by which even ambassadors are kept at their several courts.

Anciently, it was the greatest gallantry to kill an army’s general. But nowadays, it would make a person most infamous.

When the king of France besieged a certain castle, the governor was sent to know where the king lived so that he might not bombard it. The king of Prussia did not grant the princes of Saxony this request, when they informed him where the royal tent stood.

But this was because he was assured that the chief magazine was there.

Nowadays, the king and generals injure more than others.

Why is it not thought lawful to kill them as before?

This is because monarchies set the current example. Their interest is to show respect to those in authority.

But the interest of republics is in adopting the opposite maxim.

Republics were followed before the current monarchies. The same policy which makes us not so apt to go to war makes us also more favourable than before, after an entire conquest.

Anciently, an enemy=

  • forfeited all his possessions, and
  • was disposed of at the pleasure of the conquerors.

This is why the Romans often had to populate a country anew, and then send out colonies.

It is different now.

  • A conquered country only changes masters. They may be subjected to new taxes and other regulations, but need no new people.
  • The conqueror generally permits their religion and laws.

This is a much better practice than the ancient one.

Modern armies also are less irritated at one another because firearms keep them farther. When they always fought with swords, their rage and fury were raised to the highest pitch. The slaughter was vastly greater since they were mixed with one another.


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