There are many sad books on my bookshelf: books that whenever I open them cause tears to gather in the corner of my eyes, and cause my nose to sniffle. This is not because I am allergic to dust from old books (which I am), but because many old books seem to me to be markers of a better future that did not come to be. Of these, I think the saddest is an old, old book from 1911: Norman Angell's The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power in Nations to Their Economic and Social Advantage.
Norman Angell's argument is simple: It is that in modern industrial warfare between great powers, everybody loses. Losers lose. And the winners lose. Many of their fathers, sons, and husbands are dead. Much of their wealth has been blown up. And it is next to impossible to claim that these sacrifices are counterbalanced by any positive economic advantages. Straightforward plunder of the conquered country yields little. Confiscation of property and the imposition of reparations burdens damages the rule of law on which modern industrial prosperity rests. And even if you do manage to get the conquered country to ship you significant quantities of valued foodstuffs, automobiles, and radios, you then have to cope with mass unemployment among your own farmers and manufacturing workers.
Thus to Angell The Great Illusion was the view--the ravings, rather--of those like Admiral Mahan who argued that in modern industrial times commercial prosperity was the fruit of military power (especially that kind of military power especially beloved of admirals). Angell imagined the aftermath of a German victory over Britain as a result of which Germany "conquered" Britain's Canadian trade:
What has the victory [or defeat] of our ships at sea have to do with the fact that the Canadian farmer wants to buy our ploughs and pay for them with his wheat? It may be true that [a victorious] Germany could stop the importation of that wheat. But why should she want to do so? How would it benefit her people to do so?... By what sort of miracle is she suddenly to be able to double her industrial population? And by what sort of miracle is she to be able to consume the wheat, because if she cannot take the wheat the Canadian cannot buy her ploughs? I am aware that all this is elementary, that it is economics in words of one syllable... (p .59)
And he puzzled over how Pan-German politicians could believe that German prosperity required a big battlefleet when the absence of a battlefleet made no difference to the prosperity of Norway, of Denmark, or of Holland.
Angell was, of course, right. Considered as a mode of economic development, twentieth-century war between industrialized great powers was a really, really, really bad idea. And the arguments for the close linkage between commerce, power, and military might popular during the pre-World War I arms race were completely spurious.
Angell hoped to see his gospel spread, to see more and more politicians and voters realize that war was such a negative-sum game that even the winners lost, to see armaments reduced and taxes lowered and national wealth increased, and to see an end to war in his lifetime.
Of course, when August 1914 came and the lights went out over Europe, Angell's arguments were swept aside. War with Serbia made no sense for the people of Austria-Hungary. Indeed, war with Serbia made no sense for the ruling Habsburg dynasty (which lost its throne) or for its camarilla of advisors. War with Austria-Hungary made no sense for the people of Russia. Indeed, war with Austria-Hungary made no sense for the Czar and his dynasty (which lost its throne and their lives) or for Russia's ruling class (which was, after the war, one of the groups about which the new government thought that the four walls of a prison were three walls too many). To respond to a threatening war between its ally Austria-Hungary and Russia by attacking France and Belgium was a maneuver that made no sense at all for the German people, the German army, the German government, or the German Emperor. But they did it. War may have made a little sense for the French and British people ex ante as part of a process of shifting Germany's political order away from militarism and toward pacifism, but World War I and its aftermath moved Germany's political culture very much in the wrong direction.
Moreover, for much of the twentieth century the ever-inventive peoples of Europe found other reasons than economic advantage to wage war: ethnic-cleansing reasons, genocidal reasons, disputes over the proper role of market versus command as a way of organizing economic production, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Even as Angell wrote, Europe was starting down its catastrophic road. Those were the days when, as Winston S. Churchill said, "the government proposed four [modern battleships to be started each year], the navy demanded six, and we compromised on eight." Those were the days when Europe's socialist mass parties overthrew their internationalist commitments in an afternoon to vote their governments blank checks to wage total war.
But there was a different future for Europe in the twentieth century available when Norman Angell wrote. Less jingoism and more internationalism. Less focus on a nation's armed forces as the equivalent of a sports team and more focus on the heavy cost of the pre-World War I arms race. Less attention paid to the ravings of Admiral Mahan and more time spent listening to the better Angells of our nature.... Things could have been very, very different.
Norman Angell (1909), The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power in Nations to Their Economic and Social Advantage (London: William Heinemann) (3rd ed. 1911).
Norman Angell (1909), The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power in Nations to Their Economic and Social Advantage (London: William Heinemann) (3rd ed. 1911).
p. vi: What are the real motives prompting international rivalry in armaments, particularly Anglo-German rivalry? Each nation pleads that its armaments are purely for defense, but such plea necessarily implies that other nations have some interest in attack. What is this interest or supposed interest? The supposed interest has its origin in the universally accepted theory that military and political power give a modern nation commercial and social advantages, that the wealth and prosperity of the defenceless nation are at the mercy of stronger nations, who may be tempted by such defencelessness to commit aggression, so that each nation is compelled to protect itself against the possible cupidity of neighbours.
p. vi: The author challenges this universal theory, and declares it... a pure optical illusion.... [M]ilitary and political power give a nation no commercial advantage... it is an economic impossibility... for one nation to enrich itself by subjugating another.
pp. vi-vii: ...wealth in the economically civilized world is founded upoon credit and commercial contract. If these are tampered with... [by a] conqueror, the credit-dependent wealth... vanishes... giving the conqueror nothing... its collapse involves the conqueror; so that if conquest is not to injure the conqueror, he must scrupulously respect the enemy's property, in which case conquest becomes economically futile.
p. vii: When Germany annexed Alsatia, no individual German secured a single mark's worth of Alsatian property as the spoils of war.
p. vii: ...international finance... so interdependent and so interwoven with trade and industry that... political and military power can in reality do nothing for trade, since the individual merchants and manufacturers of small nations exercising no such power compete successfully.... Swiss and Belgian merchants are driving English from the Canadian market; Norway has, relatively to population, a much greater mercantile marine than Great Britain...
p. viii: What is the basis, the scientific justification of the plea that man's natural pugnacity will indefinitely stand in the way of international agreement? It is based on the alleged unchangeability of human nature, on the plea that the warlike nations inherit th eearth, that warlike qualities alone can give the virile energy necessary for nations to win in the struggle for life. The author shows that human nature is not unchanging; that warlike nations do not inherit the earth; that warfare does not make for the survival of the fittest or virile; that the struggle between nations is no part of the evolutionary law of man's advance, adn that that idea resides on a profound misreading of the biological law; that physical force is a constantly diminishing factor in human affairs, and that this diminution carries with it profound psychological modifications; that society is classifying itself by interests rather than by State divisions; that the modern State is losing its homogeneity; and that all these multiple factors are making rapidly for the disappearance of State rivalries. He shows how these tendencies--which, like the economic facts dealt with in the first part, are very largely of recent growth--may be utilized for the solution of the armament dificulty on at present untried lines.
p. 5: Mr. Frederic Harrison, who all his life had been known as the philosopher protagonist of peace, declares that, if England allows Germany to get ahead of her in the race for armaments, "famine, social anarchy, incalculable chaos in the industrial and financial world, would be the inevitable result. Britain may live on... but before she began to live freely again she would have to lose half her population, which she could not feed, and all her overseas Empire, which she could not defend.... How idle are fine words about retrenchment, peace, and brotherhood, whilst we lie open to the risk of unutterable ruin, to a deadly fight for national existence, to war in its most destructive and cruel form."
pp. 16-17: "The old predatory instinct that he should take who has the power survives... and moral force is not sufficient to determine issues unless supported by physical. Governments are corporations, and corporations have no souls. Governments, moreover, are trustees, and as such must put first the lawful interests of their wards--their own people.... More and more Germany needs the assured importation of raw materials, and where possible control of regionsl productive of such materials. More and more she requires assured markets and security as to the importation of food, since less and less comparatively is produced within her borders by her rapidly increasing population. This all means security at sea.... The world has long been accustomed to the idea of a predominant naval power, coupling it with the name of Great Britain, and it has been noted that such power, when achieved, is commonly enough associated with commercial and industrial predominance, the struggle for which is now in progress between Great Britain and Germany. Such predominance forces a nation to seek markets, and where possible to control them to its advantage by preponderant force, the ultimate expression of which is possession.... From this flow two results: the attempt to possess and the organization of force by which to maintain possession already achieved.... This statement is simply a specific formulation of the general necessity stated; it is an inevitable link in a chain of logical sequences: industry, markets, control, navy, bases." - Admiral Mahan, The Interest of America in International Conditions, Sampson Low, Marston and Co., London.
p. 31: That as the only possible policy in our day for a conqueror to pursue is to leave the wealth of a territory in the complete possession of the individuals inhabiting that territory, it is a logical fallacy and an optical illusion... to regard a nation as increasing its wealth when it increases its territory.... The facts of modern history abundantly demonstrate this. When Germany annexed Schleswig-Holstein and Alsatia not a single ordinary German citizen was one pfennig the richer.... the conqueror is unable to take the wealth of a conquered territory, owing to the delicate interdependence... which makes the financial and industrial security of the victor dependent upon financial and industrial security in all considerable civilized centers; so that widespread confiscation or destruction of trade and commerce... would react disastrously upon the conqueror... the Dutch citizen, whose government possesses no military power, is just as well off as the German citizen, whose Government possesses an army of two million men.... Thus the Three per Cents. of powerless Belgium are quoted at 96 and the Three per Cents. of powerful Germany at 82...
pp. 34-5: If the common doctrines be true, the Rothschilds, Barings, Morgans, and Sterns would not invest a pound or a dollar in... undefended nations, and yet... they consider that a Swiss or a Dutch investment is more secure than a German one.... The attitude of European finance... is the absolute condemnation of the view commonly taken by the statesman.... The prosperity of the small States... proves a good deal more than that wealth can be secure without armaments. We have seen... Admiral Mahan... plead that armaments are... necessary... a means of extracting economic advantage.... Well, the relative economic situation of the small States gives the lie to this profound philosophy...
p. 38: Austria... annex[ed] Bosnia and Hertzegovina... on the occasion of the first anniversary of the annexation, the Austrian Press dealt with the disillusion.... One paper said: "The annexation has cost us millions, was a great disturbance to our trade, and it is impossible to point to one single benefit that has resulted." There was not even a pretence of economic interest in the annexation, which was prompted by pure political vanity.
p. 54: It would really be interesting to know how those who talk as though confiscation were still an economic possibility would proceed to effect it.... [A]s we cannot carry away sections of Berlin and Hamburg, we could only annex... shares and bonds. But the value of those tokens depends upon the reliance which can be placed on the execution of... contracts.... [M]ilitary confiscation upsets all contracts... the courts... are paralyzed because judicial decisions are thrust aside by the sword. The value of the stocks and shares would collapse.... credit... would also be shaken or shattered.... German finance and industry would show a condition of panic and disorder beside which the worst crises of Wall Street would pale into insignificance.... The financial influence of London itself would be thrown into the scale to prevent a panic in which London financiers would be involved...
p. 59: What has the victory [or defeat] of our ships at sea have to do with the fact that the Canadian farmer wants to buy our ploughs and pay for them with his wheat? It may be true that [a victorious] Germany could stop the importation of that wheat. But why should she want to do so? How would it benefit her people to do so?... By what sort of miracle is she suddenly to be able to double her industrial population? And by what sort of miracle is she to be able to consume the wheat, because if she cannot take the wheat the Canadian cannot buy her ploughs? I am aware that all this is elementary, that it is economics in words of one syllable...
pp. 111-112: Even when the English, the greatest colonizers of the world, conquer a territory like the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, they have no resort, having conquered it, but to allow its own law, its own literature, its own language to have free play, just as though the conquest had never taken place. This was even the case with Quebec more than one hundred years ago, and Germany will have to be guided by a like rule. On the morrow of conquest she would have to proceed to establish her real ascendancy by other than military means--a thing she is free to do today, if she can...
p. 112: It cannot throughout this discussion be too often repeated that the world has been modified, and that what was possible to the Canaanites or the Romans, or even to the Normans, is no longer possible to us. The edict can no longer go forth to "slay every male child" that is born into the conquered territory, in order that the race may be exterminated. Conquest in this sense is impossible... in this field physical force is no longer of avail...
p. 131: The nation that in the long run fails to achieve economic success cannot satisfy its national pride; it cannot in the modern world impose itself; it cannot even keep up great armies and navies. It cannot in any way maintain its prestige...
p. 140: William James covers the whole ground of these claims... "The war party is assuredly right in affirming that the martial virtues... are absolute and permanent human goods. Patriotic pride and ambition in their military form are... specifications of a more universal and enduring competitive passion.... Pacifism makes no converts from the military party... [which] denies neither the bestiality nor the horror nor the expense; it only says that these things tell but half the story. It only says that war is worth these things; that, taking human nature as a whole, war is its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self, and that mankind cannot afford to adopt a peace economy. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and human life without hardihood would be contemptible.... This natural feeling forms, I think, the innermost soul of army writings. Without any exception known to me, militarist authors take a highly mystical view of their subject, and regard war as a biological or sociological necessity.... Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won't breed it out of us."
p. 148: The Tartar Khan, who seizes by force the wealth in his state, giving no adequate return, soon has none to seize. Men will not work to create what they cannot enjoy, so that, finally, the khan has to kill a man by torture to obtain a sum which is the thousandth part of what a London tradesman will spend to secure a title carrying no right to the exercise of force from a Sovereign who has lost all right to the use or exercise of physical force, the head of the wealthiest country in the world, the sources of whose wealth are the most removed from any process involving the exercise of physical force.
pp. 151-2: If Russia does England an injury... sinks a fishing fleet.... The yokel is satisfied if he can "get a whack at them foreigners"--Germans will do if Russians are not available. The more educated man wants Russians; but if he stops a moment longer, he will see that in killing Russian peasants he might as well be killing so many Hindoos, for all they had to do with the matter. He then wants to get at the Russian Government. But so do a great many Russians--Liberals reformers... the real conflict is not English against Russians... but... law-abiding folk--Russians and English alike--against oppression, corruption, and incompetence. And to give the Russian Government an opportunity of going to war would... increase the influence of the reactionary party in Russia.... International hostilities repose for the most part upon our conception of the foreign state... as... homogeneous... having the same character of responsibility as an individual... [but] the analogy between nations and individuals... [is] utterly false...
p. 162: For... two hundred years Christians fought the Infidel for the... Holy Sepulchre.... Suppose that during this struggle one had told a European statesman of that age that the time would come when... the representatives of Europe... could by a single stroke of the pen have secured the Holy Sepulchre... but... having discussed the matter cursorily for twenty minutes... would decided that on the whole it was not worthwhile! Had such a thing been told to such medieval statesman, he would have certainly regarded the prophecy as that of a madman. Yet this, of course, is precisely what took place.
p. 219: England's exercise of force has approximated on the whole to the role of police... England's has made for cooperation. Spain's for the embarrassment of cooperation. England's has been in keeping with the real law of man's struggle; Spain's in keeping with the sham law which the "blood and iron" empiricists are forever throwing at our heads. For what has happened to all attempts to live on extorted tribute? They have all failed--failed miserably and utterly...
p. 300: I urged that Germany could do us relatively little harm, since the harm which she inflicted on us would immediately react on German prosperity, my critic assumes that this is equivalent to saying that Englishmen would be as happy or as prosperous under German rule.... [I]f the Germans are convinced they will obtain no benefit by our conquest they will not attempt that conquest.... As to the critic's second point, I have expressly explained that not our rival's real interest but what he deems to be his real interest must be the guide.... Military force is certainly economically futile, but as long as German policy rests on the assumption of the supposed economic value of military force, we have to meet that force...
p. 304: Sir Edward Grey said: "When I read that book I was reminded... that it is not thins which matter so much, but people's opinions about things. True as the statement in that book may be, it does not become an operative motive in the minds and conduct of nations until they are convinced of its truth and it has become a commonplace to them."
Posted by DeLong at July 7, 2003 03:58 PM | TrackBack
Some Press Opinions:
Nation: No piece of political thinking has in recent years more stirred the world which controls the movement of politics.... An appeal to enlightened self-interest, a call to rationalism in international relations, reasoned with a fervour, a simplicity, and a force which no political writer of our generation has equalled... rank its author, with Cobden, among the greatest of our pamphleteers, perhaps the greatest since Swift.
Edinburgh Review: Mr. Angell's main thesis cannot be disputed, and when... fully realized there will be another diplomatic revolution more fundamental than that of 1756.
Mr. Tighe Hopkins in the Daily Chronicle: Mr. Angell has compelled, on the part of all honest readers, a new mode of thinking on the whole question of war.
Mr. Harold Begbie: A new idea is suddenly thrust upon the minds of men.... The wisest piece of writing on the side of peace extant in the world today.
Daily News: The critics have failed to find a serious flaw in Norman Angell's logical, coherent, masterly analysis.
The Times: Extremely suggestive, ingenious, and acute.... Not to be ignored by those who most dissent.
The New Age: A book that will slowly and steadily affect the political outlook of Europe.... The author has rendered an incalculable benefit to human progress.
Daily Mail: Mr. Norman Angell is to be congratulated upon a very clever work... which is being widely discussed at the present moment in political circles both here and on the continent.