Over the past few months I’ve read a number of optimistic assessments of the prospects for Europe. Oddly, however, none of these assessments argue that Europe’s German-dictated formula of redemption through suffering has any chance of working. Instead, the case for optimism is that failure — in particular, a breakup of the euro — would be a disaster for everyone, including the Germans, and that in the end this prospect will induce European leaders to do whatever it takes to save the situation.
I hope this argument is right. But every time I read an article along these lines, I find myself thinking about Norman Angell.
Who? Back in 1910 Angell published a famous book titled “The Great Illusion,” arguing that war had become obsolete. Trade and industry, he pointed out, not the exploitation of subject peoples, were the keys to national wealth, so there was nothing to be gained from the vast costs of military conquest.
Moreover, he argued that mankind was beginning to appreciate this reality, that the “passions of patriotism” were rapidly declining. He didn’t actually say that there would be no more major wars, but he did give that impression.
We all know what came next.
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