chapter  2
32 Pages

Twentieth century liberalism and thinking about war and peace, 1918 to the present

Whereas peaceful relations had characterized the nineteenth century more than

any previous one, at least in Europe itself, the twentieth was the century of ‘total

war’ when the full implications of peoples organized as nations with the power of

industry and technology bore their full fruit. Liberal thinking and practice had to

adapt themselves to a totally new situation and were forced into a sharp realiza-

tion that ‘progress’ was a double edged sword. The ‘proto-globalization’ or

‘interdependence’ fostered by Britain in the nineteenth century under its (largely)

benevolent dominance was to see itself unhinged by the First World War and

then re-adapted, first as the ‘West’ after 1945, and then as a doctrine of ‘spheres

of stability’ pitted against ‘rogue states’ in the post-Cold War period by an

increasingly powerful and ‘imperial’ United States. Many of the justifications for

such an expansion of its power can and could have been taken straight out of

Locke’s or Mill’s writing on war and peace outlined in the last chapter. There may

be ‘inconsistencies’, in Locke’s words, in the coercive nature of Anglo-American

liberalism for much of the twentieth-century, but it has the merit of self-belief.

Many (but by no means all) American leaders have claimed that they have a

morally superior claim to equate what is right for peace with what is right for the

United States, much as many leaders in Britain did before 1900. The ‘city on the

hill’ is now one that looks far wider from its shores than before 1914. The question

has to be whether this is hubris that will turn, as it did for Britain, into nemesis?