American Consequences - October 2020


By Geoffrey Norman

n the early days of the 20th century, the progressive vision was that widespread war was simply not possible. A bestselling book of the time, The Great Illusion, argued that the cost of war was prohibitive. Slaughter had become too damned expensive. And, anyway, there was so much “progress” to be experienced. So many borders to be chipped away. So much prosperity to be enjoyed. Then came 1914... and 20 million deaths in World War I. Still, when the slaughtering was done, the world decided to give optimism another try. The League of Nations was established. Disarmament treaties were negotiated and signed. Yet, 20 years later, the world was back at it. This time, it was even worse. More than 75 million died.

Still, the wars, genocides, and depressions weren’t enough to put optimism down for the count. By the end of the regrettable 20th century, the world was back at it, and this time we would get it right. Like Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, we never learn. And, perhaps that is a virtue. Otherwise it might be impossible to go on. Still, one does marvel at the way the word is taken by surprise over and over again. And how those who, by their station and claims to expertise, are so often the ones who find themselves fooled again. As the 20th century neared the end of its disastrous run, a prominent intellectual published a book called The End of History . A better title might have been The Great Illusion, Redux.


October 2020

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