In his "The French Revolution, a History", 3.3.II, Thomas Carlyle writes the following:
"for all battle is well said to be misunderstanding"
He is speaking in reference to the terrible conflict between the Girondins and the Jacobins, after the execution of Louis the XVI in 1793. Both sides envisioned a grand Republic of France, but according to Carlyle, they fought to the death because they misunderstood each other's visions of how that republic should be implemented.
I am troubled by this passage: I understand that many 'battles' are indeed the result of misunderstanding - often our words or actions do not accurately reflect our thoughts and emotions, or are misconstrued by others. The result is often conflict. Perhaps that was indeed the case with the Girondins and the Jacobins.
My gut reaction to Carlyle's assertion is that he's unquestionably wrong: There are many battles, perhaps the greatest battles that have been fought, that are not due to misunderstanding, but arise from deep seated conflicts of interest or world views that are in direct opposition: "Good vs Evil"; "Haves vs Have Nots"; "Conservative vs Progressive", etc.
I found that Kant in "Metaphysical Elements of Justice", states:
"in the right of nations to go to war and to carry on hostilities is the legitimate way by which they prosecute their rights by their own power when they regard themselves as injured; and this is done because in that state the method of a juridical process, although the only one proper to settle such disputes, cannot be adopted"
This point of view seems clearly at odds with that expressed by Carlyle: Can we say that "the legitimate way by which they prosecute their rights by their own power when they regard themselves as injured" can be interpreted as simply a misunderstanding? A state regards itself as injured because it misunderstood the intentions of its enemies? If State A cuts off the water supply of State B and State A goes to war with State B because of such, what misunderstanding is there?
Nietzsche: Ecce Homo -
"It is nothing but fanaticism and beautiful soulism to expect very much (or even, much only) from humanity when it has forgotten how to wage war."
Can Nietzsche's assertion here (and in many other places) that the waging of war is a fundamental and essential component of the human spirit be resolved with Carlyle's contention? Carlyle's opinion seems quite clear: if people would simply take the time to sit down and talk to one another and clear up their 'misunderstandings', the conflicting points of view that lead to conflict could be resolved - 'understood' - and there would be no need for 'battle'. It seems that Carlyle longs for state of affairs that Nietzsche would deem "nothing but fanaticism and beautiful soulism".
One quite graphic historical example that seems to fly in face of Carlyle's statement is WW II: Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy spawned in him endless ambition and a sense of entitlement, and so he set out to conquer Europe and eventually the USA, in the belief that such was the destiny of the Aryan Nation. There was no misunderstanding about it: Hitler's idealogy (his madness....) spurred him to attempt to conquer the Western World (eventually the entire world...) and if other nations did not go to war against him, he would have proceeded to do exactly that. I could cite numerous other examples from History.
Thought Experiment: Two adjacent states, one in the north, and the other south of the first. There is a river that runs north/south and supplies water to both states. Over time, the population of the northerly state increases such that they deem it necessary to dam the river to supply water to their growing population, thereby cutting off the water supply of the southerly state. As a result, the southerly state wages a war against its northern neighbor, to prevent it from damming the river.
How would Carlyle explain such a conflict? Where is the misunderstanding that caused this conflict? The actions of the northerly state are in direct conflict with the interests of its neighbor to the south, simply due to its own need to supply its grown population with water. There was no misunderstanding that seeded this conflict. (And I believe that my thought experiment is far more than just that: Throughout History, wars have been waged due to exactly such circumstances)
From what I know of Carlyle, his roots and outlook were decidedly Christian. Is his assertion a reflection of a Christian or Utopian point of view? The longing for a day when there will no longer be 'misunderstandings'?
Do the lessons of History refute Carlyle's assertion? Who expresses a philosophical position in direct opposition to Carlyle's? What is the basis for their position?