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August 28, 2006

The Ideology of Defeatism

Filed under: Western civilisation — limewoody @ 7:28 pm

John Garth in his biography of J. R. R. Tolkien recounts a meeting between the future author of The Lord of the Rings and an Oxford professor at the outbreak of World War I. As a student, Tolkien had taken part in debates over the looming German threat, but was still dismayed at the turn of events. According to Garth, “the Catholic professor responded that this war was no aberration: on the contrary, for the human race it was merely ‘back to normal’.” It is the complete rejection of this concept of normality in human affairs that is at the core of liberalism. Though there have been strands of liberalism throughout history, it flowered in the relatively peaceful first decades of the 19th century, following the quarter century of global warfare that had been spawned by the French Revolution and the ambitions of Napoleon. Writing in 1821, James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, claimed, “There is, in the present advanced state of the civilized world…so little chance of civil war or foreign invasion, that, in contriving the means of national felicity, but little allowance can be rationally required of it.” Any problems remaining, Mill would refer to an international court of arbitration. The French economist J.B. Say called for an end to the diplomatic corps, arguing that “it is not necessary to have ambassadors. This is one of the ancient stupidit­ies which time will do away with.” Industrialization would create so much new wealth, there would be nothing to fight about. The British Radical Richard Cobden claimed that commerce was “the grand panacea” and would remove “the motive for large and mighty empires, for gigantic armies and great fleets.”

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