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Judge Holden: On War

Judge Holden's speech on war brings Nietzsche into the Wild West. Blood Meridian has been a phenomenal read:

Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But the trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up the game, player, all.


This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification.  Seen so, war is the truest form of divination.  It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.  War is god.

Brown studied the Judge.  You’re crazy Holden.  Crazy at last.

The judge smiled.

Might does not make right, said Irving.  The man that wins in some combat is not vindicated morally.

Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak.  Historical law subverts it at every turn.  A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views.  His very involvement in such a trial gives evidence of a new and broader view.  The willingness of the principals to forgo further argument as the triviality which it in fact is and to petition directly the chambers of the historical absolute clearly indicates of how little moment are the opinions and of what great moment the divergences thereof.  For the argument is indeed trivial, but not so the separate wills thereby made manifest.  Man’s vanity may well approach the infinite in capacity but his knowledge remains imperfect and howevermuch he comes to value his judgements ultimately he must submit them before a higher court. Here there can be no special pleading.  Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here are the views of the litigants despised.  Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right.  In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural.

The judge searched out the circle for disputants.  But what says the priest? he said.

Tobin looked up.  The priest does not say.

The priest does not say, said the judge. Nihil decit. But the priest has said. For the priest has put by the robes of his craft and taken up the tools of that higher calling which all men honor. The priest also would be no godserver but a god himself.

Tobin shook his head.  You’ve a blasphemous tongue, Holden. And in truth, I was never a priest but only a novitiate to the order.

Journeyman priest or apprentice priest, said the judge. Men of god and men of war have strange affinities.

I’ll not secondsay you in your notions, said Tobin.  Dont ask it.

Ah Priest, said the judge.  What could I ask of you that you’ve not already given?