Common Sense and Conventional Wisdom Never Seem to Stop the Stupid

One of the most popular books, a phenomenon really, of 1910 was The Great Illusion by Sir Norman Angell, a British historian and social thinker, the Tom Friedman of his day.

It was extremely popular among the leaders of Europe, at this point still mostly plumed monarchs and their lesser royal advisers.  The central thesis of the work that spun conventional wisdom on its head and “changed everything” was that the nations of Europe were now, in this early part of the 20th century so intertwined in commerce that war and the time-honored methods of territorial expansion by projection of military power was unthinkable.  War was now unprofitable and thus, no country would be foolish enough to start one.

Lord Esher, a friend to King Edward delivered lectures at Cambridge and the Sorbonne on Angell’s work.

wherein he showed how “new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars.” A twentieth century war would be on such a scale, he said, that its inevitable consequences of “commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering” would be so “pregnant with restraining influences” as to make war unthinkable.

Germany, Lord Esher felt sure, “is as receptive as Great Britain  to the doctrine of Norman Angell.”*

The Germans were reading other books.

Tuchman, Barbara W. “The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I”  Random House, New York, NY. 1962.


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