Analysis of The Great Illusion, by Norman Angell

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Advances in technology and the expansion of trade have, without a doubt, improved the standard of living dramatically for peoples around the world. Globalization brings respect for law and human rights and the democratization of politics, education, and finance to developing societies, but is usually slow in doing so. It is no easy transition or permanent solution to conflict, as some overly zealous proponents would argue. In The Great Illusion, Norman Angell sees globalization as a force which results from and feeds back into the progressive change of human behavior from using physical force toward using rational, peaceful methods in order to achieve economic security and prosperity. He believes that nations will no longer wage war against one another because trade, not force, yields profit in the new global economy, and he argues that “military power is socially and economically futile” because “political and military power can in reality do nothing for trade.” While the economic interdependence of nations should prove to be a deterrent from warfare, globalization is not now, and was not a century ago, a prescription for world peace. At the turn of the twentieth century, formal colonialism was still profitable in some regions, universal free trade was not a reality, nationalism was not completely defunct, military force was necessary to protect economic investments in developing locations, and the arms race of the previous century had created the potential for an explosive war if any small spark should set the major powers off against one another. The major flaw in Angell’s argument is his refusal to acknowledge the economic advantages that colonizing powers, even after globalization has started to take shape, can actuall...

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...ry force no longer gave a nation any advantage over its neighbors, however, was erroneous, and he appears to critics today, as he appeared to many of his contemporaries, to be an overly optimistic prophet. Angell’s vision of the potential of economic interdependence to eliminate international conflict might have been better phrased as an exhortation to leaders rather than an assertion that globalization had achieved a present and unshakeable peace.


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