It was an exciting time, but it inspired us with hope. Our campus was filled with the promise of a new era. We weren’t sure what the future would bring, but we believed that the era in which war was always just around the corner was over. However, 33 years later, we found that the Cold War was alive and kicking to Putin. Relying on sentiments that date back to before 1989, he plunged Europe into another war. The conflict is as useless as it is senseless, as it seeks to re-establish a Russian empire that only exists in Putin’s own mind.
Many arguments can be put up against war, and Erasmus, after whom our university was named, was famous for doing so. “What could be more foolish than to initiate a conflict that will bring both parties more misery than good?” These words are from In Praise of Folly (1511), where they are used in a speech by Folly herself, who excelled at explaining how foolish wars are. Erasmus lived at a time when Europe was being torn apart by religious wars, and war was always just around the corner. This caused Erasmus to give the floor to Peace in a future book, The Complaint of Peace (1517). In this book, Erasmus presented not only ethical arguments against waging war, but political and economic arguments. “Before the war, all neighbouring territories belonged to you, because thanks to the trade that peace allows, all things are communal.”
Erasmus wrote The Complaint of Peace in the lead-up to the peace negotiations that the European powers that be were about to have, but which were to emerge fruitless. Nevertheless, the book was very influential at the time, and was read by many people. Erasmus explained to kings (the political leaders of his time) why war is nonsensical, presenting arguments that are very relatable even to us, living five centuries later. Because according to Erasmus, peace and free trade result in prosperity for everyone, whereas war renders the leaders themselves powerless once the consequences of war are beginning to be felt: “But now look at what you have done: now even the area in which your authority is absolute barely belongs to you.” Moreover, Erasmus reminds kings of the interests of the common people, the people on either side of the warring parties: “The majority of the people curse the war and pray for peace.”
In 1989, the year in which the Cold War ended, The Complaint of Peace was re-released, and for good reason. In this book, Erasmus made short work of the idea that there are ethical, economic or even political reasons to start a war, for the simple reason that the intended benefits never outweigh the horrible consequences. “Laws remain silent amidst arms,” Erasmus has Peace say, which is why war can never be justified. Erasmus was one of the first philosophers to present arguments as to why war never should be used as an extension of politics. After the end of the Cold War, this Erasmian idea seemed dominant in Europe for quite some time, until Vladimir Putin chose to make war part of his politics again.