Defending Angell

I’ve been pretty adamant about my Norman Angell apologism in the past, so let me endorse Matt Yglesias’ defense of The Great Illusion. The normative argument here is probably most critical; whatever predictions Angell got wrong or right, his policy prescription (“let’s not start wars of imperial conquest and encourage great power conquest”) was, as Matt says, preferable to ones the German and British governments actually adopted.

But while Angell’s central prediction – that economic interdependence will lead to a dramatic reduction in and eventual elimination of great power war – did not apply to the first war to occur after the book’s publication, it was certainly borne out by the post-WWII world order. While it’s impossible to prove causation, the fact of the matter is that a dramatic integration of the global economy coincided with the obsolescence of major war and a great reduction in armed conflict generally. Again, that’s not definitive proof that the mechanism Angell identified caused this increased pacification, but it does mean that Angell’s theory is worth seriously considering, and shouldn’t be lumped in with junk like The Threatening Storm or Empire.

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