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Friday, March 11, 2005


norman angell

matthew yglesias and brad delong have, spurred by thomas barnett, done some review of norman angell, whose brilliant 1909 "the great illusion" foresaw the terrible consequences of great-power war in a globalized world prior to the world war. it's especially timely, i think, on the heels of niall ferguson's piece in foreign affairs.

angell, i think it's fair to say, was an utilitarian idealist of the type i rarely encounter. his faith in man is exemplified in the prediction he offered in "the great illusion" that the european conflagration which did happen wouldn't. his hope for a better future in cooperation is apparent in many of his writings, and his defense of globalization -- inherent in the idea that interconnectedness has rendered useless war as an instrument of gain, the nation useless as a division of ideology and morality -- is passionate.

Are we, in blind obedience to primitive instincts and old prejudices, enslaved by the old catchwords and that curious indolence which makes the revision of old ideas unpleasant, to duplicate indefinitely on the political and economic side a condition from which we have liberated ourselves on the religious side? Are we to continue to struggle, as so many good men struggled in the first dozen centuries of Christendom -- spilling oceans of blood, wasting mountains of treasure -- to achieve what is at bottom a logical absurdity, to accomplish something which, when accomplished, can avail us nothing, and which, if it could avail us anything, would condemn the nations of the world to never-ending bloodshed and the constant defeat of all those aims which men, in their sober hours, know to be alone worthy of sustained endeavor?
angell can be seen as a sort of prophet, but i rather think of him simply as a careful man in a time of reckless emotion and action. his awareness of the excesses of his times -- ""Political nationalism has become...the most important thing in the world, more important than civilization, humanity, decency, kindness, pity; more important than life itself." -- and the damage they certainly helped to cause stands as a sobering warning against pride, immodesty and the notion of elevation and purification by war.

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