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Carr, E.H., The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939

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Context: Edward Hallett Carr (28 June 1892 – 5 November 1982) was a British historian, international relations theorist, and historiography expert (the process by which historical knowledge is obtained and
Carr1
transmitted). He was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School in London, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He spent 20 years in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (diplomatic service), resigning in 1936. Carr is most famous today for his examination of historiography and as a founder of classical realism in international relations theory. He likely foresaw the impending World War II and published this book as the war was starting.


Thesis:

  • Wise international politics compromises between extreme (utopian and realist) points of view. Both views in appropriate balance are necessary for the human endeavor to succeed. A mature political science must combine utopian and realistic thought, purpose and analysis, ethics and politics.
    • He condemns strictly utopian thinking which he believed was largely responsible for World War II
  • Carr's purpose in writing:
    • To describe the basics of realist and utopian thought
    • Cut through confusion and counteract prevailing political, power, and war thinking
    • To give the element of power its due regard
    • To explore alternatives to war

Argument:

  • Distinctions between Realism and Utopianism:
      • Utopianism focuses on what should be and realism focuses on what is.
      • Utopianism originated from the enlightenment and is dominated by intellectuals. It contends that education would solve the world’s problems by allowing people to see the truth and letting public opinion dominate. Realism is dominated by bureaucrats who do not see any general cases, only specific cases. They recognize the sinful nature of humans and believe that allowing public opinion to dominate would yield incorrect, unwise, and wicked policies.
      • Utopians believe that theory guides practice (action). Realists believe that practice (action) creates theory.
      • Utopians are accused of being naïve about the workings of the world. Realists are accused of being sterile and incapable of inspiring action.
      • Utopians believe that ethics should dominate politics; people will submit to the greater good even if acting against their own self-interests. Realists believe that power politics are dominant. People are unlikely to act against their own self-interests, especially when their survival is at stake. Principles are derived from politics and ethics are the effect, not the cause of history.
  • In order to decrease the likelihood of conflict, a superpower must increase its power to deter its enemies. Nations must also conceal their selfish national interests by acting benevolently at times when such action does not conflict with important interests to decrease the dissatisfaction of their enemies. A powerful nation can then establish international institutions to support the status quo.
  • International law can solve small disputes but not big ones when vital interests are at stake.
  • New intl order must be considered from the standpoint both of power and morality (226)
    • States will not acquiesce to another body deciding their fate.
    • The League of Nations was based on utopian principles and failed because there is no international enforcement mechanism.
    • Utopianism is easily followed in peacetime but not during conflict.
    • In contrast to Marxist predictions, the inequality that threatened world order during the interwar period was the inequality of nations, not individuals or groups (227)
    • The nation-state will survive (228) because men will continue to organize into groups for purpose of conflict (231)

Implications for Strategy:

  • Strategists must understand the perspective of others and focus on balancing realist and utopian thought. Both power and morality needed in international order; power as basis of authority, morality as consent of governed or will lead to revolt (235)
  • Strategists must conduct hard analysis of the underlying causes of conflict and apply them toward future strategy to maintain peace and meet a nation’s interests.
  • Learn to recognize someone’s political worldview and communication will be easier; you won’t talk past each other and solutions are more easily reached


Sugar's tips on Carr

Obviously, the book is considered a classic, and a major influencer of the current concepts in use today. This book might be one of the earliest to truly discuss the DIME, even if he doesn’t label it that way. It also touches on the moral domain of warfare with the ethical discussion, a concept originally defined in another contemporary classic work we’ll study, The Foundations of the Science of War by JFC Fuller. It also applies to the concept of “Campaign Authority” that the British and Canadians have recently introduced as a wrap up of moral and legal authority mixed with effective strategic comms. It’ a good example of a well supported thesis , with arguments and counterarguments built in. It’s perhaps unique in its effectiveness in exposing the underlying assumptions that undergirded some of the major policy positions of the time, ones which may apply equally to a number of our current policy positions.

Perhaps the biggest reason we’re starting with this one is Carr’s emphasis on the role of power in politics (something Col Schultz prominently highlighted in his remarks about what we’re supposed to be able to discuss as future SAASS grads). Carr states his primary reason for writing his book in the preface, stating that the book was written “with the deliberate aim of counteracting the glaring and dangerous defect of nearly all thinking, both academic and popular, about international politics in English speaking countries from 1919 to 1939 – the almost total neglect of the factor of power.” If you read some contemporary arguments that state on state warfare is a thing of the past lately (it’s all gonna be COIN from now on, right?), they look eerily like some of the arguments highlighted in Carr’s discussions of “utopianism” that people in the interwar period used to assume a major war would never occur again despite the fact that the underlying conditions for major wars hadn’t gone away (described as fear, honor, and interest by Thucydides). Given the SAASS motto, I’m guessing it’s no coincidence we’re revisiting some of these historical arguments and their inherent defects...


This is also a great book for us to start with because it’s a great lesson in dealing with complexity and ambiguity. Carr offers two different perspectives to describe the same international environment, and gives the strengths and flaws of each. He is very careful to point out that “Utopia and reality are thus the two facets of political science. Sound political thought and sound political life will be found only where both have their place” pg 10. Thus, a good strategist must be intellectually agile: able to approach the same problem from multiple approaches, and discern useful context and perspective from each while acknowledging the limitations of each conceptual model. We’ll see a lot of this kind of studf this year (i.e. the prescriptive approach of Jomini vs the descriptive approach of Clausewitz, the models in Allison and Zelikow’s Essence of Decision” describing the same event through three different “lenses” and looking for useful insight in a combination of each, etc) . This is what the Army is grappling with now as they approach their new “Design”, concept – more on that later.

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