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Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis (XXI)

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Maj Matt Domsalla

SAASS 601 – Foundations of Military Strategy

The Twenty Years’ Crisis Precis

In The Twenty Years’ Crisis, E.H Carr, a former British Foreign Office officer and Woodrow Wilson Chair in the Department of International Politics at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth, explores the interplay of the worldview between utopians (intellectuals, believed in reason, ethical standards) and realists (bureaucrats, force, no absolute standard, morality is relative). Carr’s work is a study of the inter-war period of 1919 to 1939 and examines why the peace following World War I as implemented by the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations failed and resulted in World War II. Carr wrote the work to address the failure of academic and popular literature of the time to address the factor of power in international politics/relations. For Carr, diplomatic platitudes and international organizations did little to resolve international issues. In fact, these bodies caused problems by creating the illusion that complex international problems could be resolved by ‘an international community composed of a society of states who all shard the same goals.’ For Carr, change in the international area was both natural and necessary – the challenge was to ensure that the change occurred peacefully rather than violently. Furthermore, this change was a function of power, not of morality. Carr identifies three critical factors that must be present to make a potential crisis dangerous: the existence of powerful and resentful states situated outside the international order; a profound and sustained disruption to the operation of the global economy; and the unwillingness/inability of any single power (hegemon) to underwrite international order. Carr also addressed how victorious states should build peace following a period of war – peace needs not only international institutions but also social and economic conditions. The Twenty Years’ Crisis, along with Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations, formed the basis for the study of international relations in the United States following World War II.

The Science of International Politics

· “Political science is the science not only of what is, but of what ought to be.” (6)

· “The science of international politics has been markedly and frankly utopian…wishing prevails over thinking, generalization over observation, and in which little attempt is made at a critical analysis of existing facts or available means.” (8)

· “Realism…places its emphasis on the acceptance of facts and on the analysis of their causes and consequences.” (10)

Utopia and Reality

· “The antithesis of utopia and reality can in some aspects be identified with the antithesis of Free Will and Determinism…theory and practice…the intellectual and the bureaucrat…of radical and conservative…different conception of the relationship of politics and ethics.” (12 – 19)

· “The utopian sets up an ethical standard which purports to be independent of politics, and seeks to make politics conform to it. The realists cannot logically accept any standard value save that of fact.” (19)

The Utopian Background

· “The view that 19th century liberal democracy was based, not on a balance of forces peculiar to the economic development of the period and to countries concerned, but on certain a priori rational principles which had only to be applied in other contexts to produce similar results, was essentially utopian; and it was this view which, under Wilson’s inspiration, dominated the world after the first world war.” (29)

· “The whole concept of the League of Nations was from the first closely bound up with the twin belief that public opinion was bound to prevail and that public opinion was the voice of reason.” (34)

· “The breakdown of the 1930s was too overwhelming to be explained merely in terms of individual action or inaction. Its downfall involved the bankruptcy of the postulates on which it was based.” (39)

The Harmony of Interests

· “Those who assert the primacy of ethics over politics will hold that it is the duty of the individual to submit for the sake of the community as a whole, sacrificing his own interest to the interests of others who are more numerous, or in some other way more deserving… Those, on the other hand, who assert the primacy of politics over ethics, will argue that the ruler rules because he is the stronger, and the ruled submit because they are the weaker…The realists…has perfectly rational answer to the question why the individual should submit. He should submit because otherwise the stronger will compel him; and the results of compulsion are more disagreeable than those of voluntary submission.” (42 – 43)

· “The harmony of interests provided a solid rational basis for morality.” (44)

· Laissez-faire school of political economy as advocated by Adam Smith popularized the doctrine of the harmony of interests, yet the assumption of a general and fundamental harmony of interests is prima facie so paradoxical that it requires careful scrutiny. (43 – 44)

· “Biologically and economically, the doctrine of the harmony of interests was tenable only if you left out of account the interest of the weak who must be driven to the wall, or called in the next world to redress the balance of the present.” (49)

· “The common interest in peace masks the fact that some nations desire to maintain the status quo without having to fight for it, and others to change the status qui without having to fight in order to do so.” (51)

· “We must therefore reject as inadequate and misleading the attempt to base international morality on an alleged harmony of interests which identified the interest of the whole community of nations with the interests of each individual member of it.” (57)

The Realist Critique

· Three essential tenets implicit in Machiavelli’s doctrine are foundation-stones of the realist philosophy. (1) History is a sequence of cause and effect, whose course can be analyzed and understood. (2) Theory does not create practice, but practice theory. (3) politics are not a function of ethics, but ethics of politics. (62)

· “Morality is the product of power.” (63)

· “The utopian, when he preaches the doctrine of the harmony of interests, is innocently and unconsciously…clothing his own interest in the guise of a universal interest for the purpose of imposing it on the rest of the world.” (71)

· “The doctrine of the harmony of interests thus serves as an ingenious moral device invoked, in perfect sincerity, by privileged groups in order to justify and maintain their dominant position.” (75)

· “International order and international solidarity will always be slogans of those who feel strong enough to impose them on others.” (80)

· “What matters is that these supposedly absolute and universal principles were not principles at all, but the unconscious reflections of national policy based on a particular interpretation of national interests at a particular time.” (80)

Limitation of Realism

· “Consistent realism excludes four things which appear to be essential ingredients of all effective political thinking: a finite goal, an emotional appeal, a right of moral judgment and a ground for action.” (84)

· “Any sound political thought must be based on elements of both utopia and reality.” (87)

· “Politics are made up of two elements – utopia and reality – belonging to two different planes which can never meet.” (87)

The Nature of Politics

· “Politics cannot be divorced from power.” (92)

· Two cardinal factor of politics – power and morality. (95)

Power in International Politics

· “Power is always an essential element of politics.” (97) Once conflicts of power have been resolved, the question is no longer political and becomes administrative.

· “The Locarno Treaty was an expression of the power politics of a particular period and locality.” (100) The treaty was based on a balance of fears between France and Germany at the particular time the nations signed the treaty.

· “Ultima ratio of power in international relations is war.” (102)

· “Foreign policy can never, or never should, be divorced from strategy.” (103)

· “Economic strength has always been an instrument of political power, if only through its association with the military instrument.” (105)

· “Autarky (self-sufficiency) is not only a social necessity, but an instrument of political power.” (111)

· Economic weapon – export of capital and control of foreign markets. (114)

· “The substitution of the economic weapon for the military weapon is a symptom not so much of superior morality as of superior strength.” (117)

· “Power over opinion is the third form of power.” (120)

· “Absolute power over opinion is limited in two ways…the necessity of some measure of conformity with fact…[and] by the inherent utopianism of human nature.” (129)

Morality in International Politics

· “In the international community, the assumption is commonly make by statement and writers of the satisfied powers that the process of give and take operates only within the existing order and that sacrifices should be made by all to maintain that order.” (152)

· “Those who profit most by that order can in the long run only hope to maintain it by making sufficient concessions to make it tolerable to those who profit by it least; and the responsibility for seeing that these changes take places as far as possible in any orderly way rests as much on the defenders as on the challengers.” (152 – 153)

The Foundations of Law

· “International law lacks three institutions which are essential parts of any developed system of municipal law: a judicature, an executive and a legislature.” (159)

· “Law is regarded as binding because, if it were not, political society could not exist and there could be no law.” (164)

· “Law, like politics, is a meeting place for ethics and power.” (165)

The Sanctity of Treaties

· “Insistence on the legal validity of international treaties is a weapon used by the ruling nations to maintain their supremacy over weaker nations on whom the treaties have been imposed.” (174)

The Judicial Settlement of International Disputes

· “International law…recognized no compulsory jurisdiction.”

· “There are certain fundamentals of a political character which we are not prepared to have challenged by any foreign authority, whether judicial or political.” (181)

· “The law recognizes no inequality other than inequality of legal right. In politics, the converse presupposition holds.” (187)

Peaceful Change

· “If a change is necessary and desirable, the use or threatened use of force to maintain the status quo may be morally more culpable than the use or threatened use of force to alter it.” (191)

· “Every solution of the problem of political change, whether national or international, must be based on a compromise between morality and power.” (192)

· “Power plays a part in determining our moral outlook, so that we shall be disposed, other things being equal, to regard a solution desired by the strong or the many as juster than a solution desired by the weak or the few.” (200)

· Two examples – Anglo-Irish treaty, and failure to achieve a peaceful settlement with Germany in the period between the two world wars. (201)

· “To establish methods of peaceful change is therefore the fundamental problem of international morality and of international politics.” (202)

The Prospects of a New International Order

· “The characteristic feature of the crisis of the twenty years between 1919 and 1939 was the abrupt descent from the visionary hopes of the first decade to the grim despair of the second, from a utopia which took little account of the reality to a reality from which every element of utopia was rigorously excluded.” (207)

· “Before considering the role of power in any new international order, we must first ask what will be the unit of power.” (209)

· “Are the largest and most comprehensive units of political power in the world necessarily of a territorial character? If so, will they continue to take approximately the form of the contemporary nation-statue?” (210)

· “Power is a necessary ingredient of every political order.” (213)

· “It is utopian to ignore the element of power; it is an unreal kind of realisms which ignores the element of morality in any world order.” (216)

· “The fata dualism of politics will always keep consideration of morality entangled with considerations of power.” (216)

· “A new international order and a new international harmony can be built up only on the basis of an ascendancy which is generally accepted as tolerant and unoppressive or at any rate, as preferable to any practicable alternative.” (217)

· Key reasons for British/US leadership: “seeking consent of the governed by methods other than coercion… use of conciliation even in dealing with those against whom it would have been easy to use force.” (217)

· Ultimately the best hope of progress toward international conciliation seems to lie along the path of economic reconstruction.” (218)

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