There is lots of foreign policy analysis in the latest issue of WORLD Magazine, so it's a good time to remember the "illusion" a talented writer spotted a century ago—and how the supposed illusion took 20 million lives within a decade, and 50 million more a third of a century later.
I'm referring to a writer once celebrated, now forgotten: Norman Angell, author a century ago of Europe's Optical Illusion, which he expanded in 1910 into The Great Illusion, a book that sold 2 million copies and garnered translation into 25 languages.
Angell (1872-1967), one of six children born into an English middle-class family, grew up reading Voltaire, Darwin, and John Stuart Mill. At 17, convinced that Europe's problems were too many to untangle, he headed to America. For the next seven years he dug ditches, chased cattle, prospected for gold, delivered mail, and became a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and then the San Francisco Chronicle.
Deciding to give Europe another chance, he returned there in 1898 and worked on newspapers in England and France until 1912, concluding from his reporting that Europe and the world would never again suffer through a great war. The reason: Nations had become so financially and economically interdependent that swords would inevitably become plowshares.
James Madison had written in The Federalist Papers that "if men were angels, no government would be necessary." The early 20th-century equivalent was that if men were as rational as Norman Angell, no wars would be fought. Angell made it clear in the preface to The Great Illusion that nations became rich through industry and trade, so "military and political power give a nation no commercial advantage." He wrote that "it is an economic impossibility for one nation to seize or destroy the wealth of another, or for one nation to enrich itself by subjugating another."
His book optimistically proclaimed that warfare "belongs to a stage of development out of which we have passed." He argued that "the commerce and industry of a people no longer depend upon the expansion of its political frontiers; that a nation's political and economic frontiers do not now necessarily coincide; that military power is socially and economically futile." He was seeing the first stages of economic globalization.
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