The Great War

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Arnold Kling looks back at the tragedy of the Great War:

I really think that if more people focused on leadership during that war, the concerns over “market failure” and the faith in political leadership would decline. I challenge anyone to come up with a group of business villains who caused as much death and suffering as the “legitimate” political leaders of 1914.

My proposal for Veterans’ Day observances is that they should include a re-telling of the history of World War I along the lines of the Passover re-telling of the Exodus. My goal would be to help inoculate people from believing in the wisdom of the ruling class.

I have to agree with this comment though:

I venture that re-telling the horrors of World War One would merely further support for a stronger UN or similar international body. A decline in petty nationalism would be replaced by a desire for internationalism or by a desire for universally weaker governments across the board, guess which one is more likely?

The major state to leave the World War One battlefield was of course Russia under Communist revolution, so it’s certainly not instinctively obvious to walk away with a Market Solves Everything solution. I’m sure Kling has a sophisticated argument in mind, but a mere retelling is unlikely to suggest such an argument.

Likewise, war resistors and pacifists during WWI were overwhelmingly drawn from the left and extreme left, not the right.

As far as the US is concerned, libertarian and free-market claims to be anti-war and pro-civil-rights have very little popular credibility because when the chips are down prominent libertarians then decide otherwise. The view that there is a military-industrial complex that needs to be dismantled by a heroic politician has much sympathy; the view that selfish myopic leaders provoke war over the heroic protests of the private sector, not so much. Right or wrong I think this a fair assessment of the popular view.

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