Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CASUS BELLI A nation is accountable to itself alone. It is always the nation itself that, in the end, judges its relations to other powers. It can, at its pleasure, change the nature of those relations, and pass from a state of peace to a state of war. But wars always have a pretext or a reason. When the pretext or reason can be shown beforehand, it is said to be a casus belli, a case of war. It would be impossible to enumerate the various causes of war. The cause of a war may depend on fortuitous circumstances; on the choice of a prince to succeed to a neighboring throne; on the change of a form of government; on wounded vanity. We shall confine ourselves to a general summary of the principal causes that lead to war. They arise either from a violation of rights or from the violation of the interests of one nation by another; or else from offenses against the dignity of the nation.—"The rights of states," says Klüber, (Droits des gens modernes, sec. 2, chap. i., p. 208), "are violated in the same manner as the rights of individuals. They are violated directly or indirectly; directly, if the injury has been done to the body of the state itself; indirectly, if it has been done only to individual subjects of the state; it may be by some of its members, provided their government has been affected in any way by the violation." The state, like a man living isolated and in a state of nature, Klüber further says, according to the most eminent jurisconsults, has the right to defend itself by acts of violence, in the measure that may be necessary, against injuries actual or to be apprehended. Thus a state may be injured by the mere fact that a neighboring state has acquired an excess of territory. It may declare such acquisition a casus belli.


—There have been cases in which war has been waged under the pretext that a moral invasion, an intellectual contagion, a political epidemic, was feared, or because there was a pretense of fearing them. However, a revolution, or even a rebellion, when it is purely national, and unaccompanied by direct danger to other states, does not justify the intervention of these states in affairs not theirs. Bluntschli expresses himself as follows, in his Codified International Law, on this point. "We must acknowledge and admit the necessity for every state and people to modify itself according to the political needs of the period, on the same ground that historical rights should be protected when they are not in conflict with principles admitted by its contemporaries. By opposing the formation of a new law, the living breath which animates the law is lost sight of, and the law itself is kept from progressing, together with the nation. We do not see why a people should have the right to go to war to defend the crown of their prince, and not have the right to resort to arms to establish national unity. Is it, perchance, because an old piece of parchment determined during the middle ages the right of succession of the prince, while a series of disastrous events hindered during several centuries the consolidation of national unity? It seems to me that the right of a people to resort to arms when necessary to give themselves the constitution they claim to develop their natural qualities, to fulfill their mission, to provide for their safety, defend their honor, is much more natural, more important and more sacred than musty manuscripts, the evidence of the rights of a dynasty."


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